A game without rules in stripped down costume, this is football like the referees have never allowed.
"Too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game"
This comment supposedly made by Henry III of France in 1574 reveals the violence and energy in the early forms of "Calcio Fiorentino", played with enthusiasm by Florentine aristocrats in the 16th century. The game gained popularity in the early renaissance and has been mooted to be a descendent of Harpastum, a Roman ball game, played with a ball smaller than a football but with equal vigour. Harpastum itself is thought to have descended from a Greek ball game, phaininda, also a vigorous and dangerous game.
It is certainly reasonable to this a just another aspect of the enthusiasm for all things Roman and classical, a rediscovery of the classical texts and culture that drove the Renaissance, as ancient concepts and ideas were rediscovered and discussed, ancient ways of doing things revived and rediscovered. While Brunelleschi pored over ancient texts and ruins to discover how the Romans could cast such an amazing dome as the Pantheon, and other academics went for the philosophical enquiries of Plato and Socrates, others revived ancient ball games. It's all culture.
I'm always reminded of Goscinny's wonderful cartoons of rugby, with Asterix and Obelix looking on in wonder at the mindless violence of the Britons they've come to visit, and the bonhomie that seemed to accompany it
After fading away in the 18th century, the Calcio Storico was revived in the 1930s - another period of enthusiasm over Roman history - and is today played in Piazza Santa Croce. 3 matches a year are played, in the last third of June, between 4 teams representing areas of the city:
Santa Croce / Azzurri (Blues)
Santa Maria Novella / Rossi (Reds)
Santo Spirito / Bianchi (Whites)
San Giovanni / Verdi (Greens)
The final is then played on the 24th of June, the day of San Giovanni, patron saint of Florence.
For more information - and for some rather startling photos, have a look here:
Tickets are generally sold in late May or early June, but only a few days ahead of the matches. The popularity of the games meant online ticket sales soared, and this made tickets hard to get, especially for locals. As this is a very local event, and not a tourist spectacle, from 2018, tickets are only sold in the local box office - none online - to give locals a chance to get tickets first. This is a game by locals and for locals, not for tourists, like the Palio in Siena. So we can't pre-book tickets to the matches, you'll have to try to get them close to the dates - but don't despair, if unsuccessful you can always view it on live streaming, and the atmosphere in the city still makes it worth a trip!