Italian football is phenomenal. Teams like Juventus, Inter Milan, and Roma, can be watched for a very reasonable price.

…But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

If you think about football, one of two things probably come to mind:

  • The sport that’s also popularly known as soccer.
  • The sport that’s also more specifically called American football.

What we’re talking about is neither of those. It’s much rarer, much more violent, and if you’re fond of the concept of violent gladiator battles, much more entertaining.

It’s more specifically called Florentine Football, or Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Historic Florentine Football)

So what is Florentine Football and why should you care?

The best way to describe Florentine Football is like this: take soccer, American football, mixed martial arts, and street fighting, then mix them all together. Add just two rules: no sucker punches, and no kicks to the head. Put 54 players on a field, 27 apiece, and ban substitutions. There you have it. A resemblance of the beautiful game.

Now the game isn’t only worth watching because it’s entertaining, but because it’s an incredibly cultural event. Florentine Football has its origins way back in the Renaissance. You may have put two and two together by now, but it originated in Piazza Santa Croce, in the city of Florence, Tuscany.

It was created as a display of strength and pride for the four main neighborhoods of Florence, to see who would be the most dominant.

It became so popular, so fast, that there are even records of cardinals and Popes playing it in the Vatican courtyards. Children would play it against each other in the streets. It was the thing at the time.

A French king once visited Florence and watched the sport. What he said of it was that it’s “too small to be a war, yet too cruel to be called a game”. Unbelievable.

So why does Florentine Football still exist today?

The history behind the revival of Florentine Football is probably best of all. And it has to do with a man that everybody knows the name of: il Duce.

Benito Mussolini was a very busy man. As the dictator of fascist Italy from 1922 to 1943, he drained swamps, built towns with fascist architecture, and even crushed the mafia influence in southern Italy on a vendetta.

At one stage, Mussolini also decided that rugby would be a great sport for Italians to take part in. His idea was that rugby would be able to display the most muscular Italian men, show the physical dominance of Italians, and their intelligent style of play.

Unfortunately, he ran into a few problems. One of which was that rugby players tended to be less submissive to authority than the general population. It was quite hard to control them in the way he expected. And the other major problem is that, well…Rugby isn’t inherently Italian. For someone on such a nationalist agenda, promoting a non-Italian sport so fervently wasn’t exactly inline with the message.

So he trashed the rugby direction, and instead revived Florentine Football. An offshoot of harpustrum, the ancient Roman ball game. Much better. Of Roman descent, purely Italian, and far more violent. Apparently, what more could you ask for?

Anyways, the revival story is one of the most amazing features of the history of football in Florence.

Can you still buy tickets to see Florentine Football?

Yes and no.

You certainly can get tickets, but it’s not easy to get tickets to a game at all.

See, the game is played only thrice a year in June. Since there are four competing neighborhoods in Florence, there can only be three games in a tournament. They start with two semi-finals, and end in a final game. The final is always played on June 24th, the day of Saint John (San Giovanni). That day only comes once a year, and so there is only one tournament.

But the rarity of the game isn’t the hardest part of getting tickets. Tickets were once sold online, but too many tourists were snagging them. The game is literally played to display local neighborhood dominance, so as you can imagine, locals want to see the games the most of everyone.

As a result, tickets were limited to in-person purchases, close to the time of the annual tournament. So if you want tickets, you either need to be in the right place at the right time…or know a local Italian that can buy tickets for you.

If you manage to snag a ticket to a game of Florentine Football, it’s an event you’ll never forget. Just don’t get blood on your shirt!

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