Calcio Storico: an introduction to the brutal Italian sport

Florence is the capital of the beautiful Tuscany region and the home of Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery, Renaissance masterpieces – and Calcio Storico, ‘historic football’, one of the most brutal games on earth.

A short history of the ‘beautiful’ game

‘Calcio in Livrea’ first surfaced around 1200-1300AD – although it was rumoured to be the sport of the gladiators – and became known as ‘Calcio Storico’ or ‘historic football’ in the 16th century. Originally it was played only by the upper classes. Once a year, every night between Epiphany and Lent, rich aristocrats would compete in the brutal sport – even popes were believed to take part.

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How the game is played

The official rules were published in 1580 and, like football, it is played on a rectangular pitch with goals at each end, but there the similarity ends.

If your idea of football is getting a team together, ordering football team kits from an online supplier such as and then kicking a ball towards a goal, think again.

Calcio Storico is a vicious blend of football, rugby, wrestling and boxing that is played once a year between rival teams in Florence’s four historic quarters. A game lasts 50 minutes and is one of the most crunching and brutal sporting contests you are ever likely to witness. Two teams of 27 players have 50 minutes to score as many goals – or caccia – as possible by throwing the ball into the net.

Calcio Storico is all about the visceral rivalry between the four quarters and the opportunity to practise some serious boxing and brawling skills and take revenge for past defeats. Once the cannon fires and the pallaio throws the ball into the ring, the only rules are to score and to stop your opponents scoring by any means necessary.

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Like a Florence version of Fight Club, the fighting starts as soon as the ball goes into play and does not stop until the match is over. Bones are fractured, skulls smashed and mayhem ensues; however, this is no mere brawl. The participants spend hours training and precision is vital, as a missed goal awards half a goal to the opposing side.

All this to win a white veal calf!