> Florentine Football
in Costume": Soccer from the Renaissance
has now become multicolored: an extraordinary range of colors
offered by the show of the wheat, which is now ready to be harvested,
while giving the countryside a shade of gold outlined by the
scarlet red of the poppies, that each year flower along the
edges and all around the cultivated fields. Along a riverbank
or at higher levels, we can catch sight of the intense green
of the mulberry tree, of the beech tree or of the elder tree,
which contributes like a rhythm in the light blue of a clear
But not only sight sensations are offered to its tourists and
inhabitants by this region, during this summer. In fact, for
the first time, after almost a thousand years, the Leaning Tower
of Pisa will offer a night time view of the city; not to mention
of Florence, which just the last week celebrated the famous
Calcio Fiorentino (an ancient issue of our modern soccer).
The Calcio Fiorentino, we said: despite the origin of soccer
is commonly attributed to England, I would suggest you not to
tell this to the Florentines, who claim this game existing in
their city already in 59 b.C., when Florence was founded by
the Romans under the name of Florentia. The Roman soldiers themselves
were the ones who imported this game there, after having learnt
the rules from the Greeks; differently from other cities of
that time, this game was still played in Florence during the
Middle Ages and especially during the Renaissance, by that time
perfected in a real championship, whose teams were represented
by the several town areas, according to the respective churches,
therefore: San Giovanni (the Baptistery), Santa Croce, Santo
Spirito and Santa Maria Novella.
People who today visit these churches, so rich in art, history
and religion, would never think them to be the "flag" of the
town football. During the Renaissance the matches were held
at the end of winter, too, or during the last days of Carnival.
In 1941 it happened, for example, that the match was played
over the iced area of the Arno River, just in front of the Ponte
Vecchio bridge. Any way, one match over all became legendary:
it was the one played in 1530, the 17th of February, under the
siege by the imperial armies of Charles V, when the Emperor
surrounded the city with 30,000 soldiers in order to reinstate
the Medici family, previously expelled by the Florentines who
had established a republican government.
It could be dangerous to play that match in that situation,
but the pride of the Florentines
was equal to their shrewdness so as to decide to go on playing
and ignoring the situation and to continue playing even when
a cannon-ball flew over the crowd in Santa Croce square, crossing
over the roof of the church without hurting anybody, luckily.
Whistles and yells of derision towards the besiegers then followed.
Each time I think of this event, I imagine Michelangelo, the
"divine" sculptor who actively defended its town, while looking
at the town gates with one eye and while enjoying the match
with the other eye. A match of the Calcio Fiorentino was - and
still today is - the chance lasting a whole year to show the
strength and the physical -athletic superiority of the inhabitants
of a certain area of the city: the game field measures about
80 x 40 mt., therefore it is a bit smaller compared to the present
game fields and it is completely covered with sand; the goals
are of the same length as per the bottom lines and consist of
a continuous net with a 80 cm. opening.
The number of the football players (called "calcianti") is of
27 per team (instead of 11 like in our modern soccer), all lined
along four horizontal lines, thereby resembling the order of
the fighting division in the tactical units of the Roman Legion
(who imported the game in Florence), any way likewise in today's
soccer (the lines for the goalkeeper, for the defenders , for
the centre forward players ?and for the attackers). There are
therefore the back "Datori" (side defenders) the forward "Datori"
and the "Sconciatori" (two half-back lines); plus the "Innanzi
or Corridori" (the fastest lines, who are the attackers for
the goals to score). By the way!: "goal" is obviously an Anglo-Saxon
At Florence the goal has always been called "Caccia"
and at each "caccia" scored the teams have to exchange the game
field, differently from today's change, which occurs at the
end of the half-time. The ball
which once consisted of rags, hay, hairs or feathers pressed
and covered with leather, or of animal bowel swelled with air
and then sewn, can be advanced also keeping it by the hands.
lasts 50 minutes and consists more or less of two main rules:
1. to score goals (better said "caccia's"); 2. to avoid
the adversary team to score. All the rest is show and it is
therefore permitted: the players of the team are usually chosen
among young people of a certain physical and athletic appearance,
who perform a game in which encounters, tackles,
scuffles, everything - or nearly everything - is incredibly
At the end of the match the winners and the defeated players
leave the field in their traditional costumes by then torn and
with painful bones. The winner team gets a white cow
or, let's say better: the equivalent of a white cow, but as
"florentine" steaks, which will be served at the traditional
final dinner. The importance is stressed in the pride of being
the best "calcianti" in Florence.
The matches of the Calcio Fiorentino were officially suspended
in 1739 and only restored in 1930, according to the ancient
costumes. In the meantime, more northwards, in England, somebody
thought of passing this ancient game on, but with shorter goals,
less players and no use of the hands allowed, so this is to
be considered another matter, absolutely..!