Modern Day Gladiators Of Calcio Storico Fiorentino

Photographs & Text by David Ramos

Calcio Storico Fiorentino is an early form of football, originating in the 1500’s, which is still played today in Florence, Italy. The official rules of calcio were written for the first time in 1580 by Giovanni de Bardi, a count from Florence. Originally calcio (which is also the name for modern day football/soccer in Italy) was played for rich aristocrats, and even popes were known to play.

Now, the tournament is held the third week of June at the Santa Croce square in the centre of Florence. Four teams representing the neighbourhoods of Florence face each other in the first semi-finals. The winners go to the final, played every year on June 24, the day of the patron saint of Florence, San Giovanni (however the 2013 final was postponed until June 30, due to heavy rain). The winner is honoured with a cow.

The teams are formed by 27 players and the ball can be played either with feet or hands. They can fight using tactics such a punching, elbowing and all martial arts techniques, but kicks to the head are forbidden, as are fights of two or more against one. There is a referee, a field master, and six linesmen. A game lasts 50 minutes, and the winning team is the one who scores most points. The playing field is a giant sand pit with a narrow slit constituting the goal running the width of each end. Calcio Storico was not played for 200 years, until its revival in 1930.

The four neighbourhoods taking part are Santa Croce (the blue team), Santa Maria Novella (the red team), Santo Spirito (the white team), and San Giovanni (the green team). In 2006, the tournament was suspended for two years after big riots between the white team and the blue team.

“The most important component of the Calcio Storico is the fear. Those who say they don’t feel fear are telling lies,” says Alessio Giorgerini, 38, a player of the Santa Croce Azzurri (blue) team. “Fear is the engine that drives us. When you walk into the arena and the cage is closed, the fear becomes a pleasurable sensation. All my unnecessary senses are suppressed, and the necessary ones are intensified with an sole aim; to survive 50 minutes against 27 men that want to kill me on the arena.”

“In 2012, the Santa Croce Azzurri (blue) team lost the final against the Santo Spirito Bianchi (white) team after 31 years of winning the tournament. That 2013 final was therefore an opportunity for revenge.”

“This will be the first year that I will allow my brother to take part in the tournament. I know how I’ll enter the square, but nobody knows how they will leave it. This year I want to win the match with my brother next to me,” says Leonardo Schiavonni, 40, a member of the Santa Croce Azzurri (blue) team. His brother, Antonio Schiavonni, 43, and him run a drinks distribution company selling beverages to restaurants and businesses. Leonardo has previously never allowed his brother to participate in the Calcio Storico tournament, because at least one of them must be available to open for business every day. If both of them were to be injured during a match, they would not be able to run their business and they would lose money.

Simone Mafara, another Santa Croce Azzurri (blue) team member says, “My mother has never come to the square, nor my wife, daughter or father… If I knew that my mother was suffering in the stands, watching her son getting wounded, and wounding other opponents, it would kill me.”

This feature was shot in May and June 2013.

Full edit of 73 images available on request.