THE FLORENTINE FOOTBALL
The “Florentine football”, also known as “historic football” or “costume football” is a Florentine tradition that dates back to the 15th century. It is a mix of soccer and rugby (and nowadays a little wrestling too!), because ball is grabbed with hands; this game was played especially during carnival time, and this explains the reference to costumes in its name. Nowadays players are dressed in medieval-style costumes, each one with the colors of his own team. Teams are four, one for each historic quarter of the city: Santa Croce (Blues), San Giovanni (Greens), Santa Maria Novella (Reds) and Santo Spirito (Whites).
In the 15th and 16th centuries the “Florentine football” was considered an aristocratic game, something that derived from what children used to play in the streets, or soldiers in the military camps, but at the higher level, and for this reason some of the main citizens of Florence had taken part to it, like Piero de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, or Giulio de’ Medici (future Pope Clemens VII), and the Grand Duke Cosimo I. It was played alternately in the main squares of the city, but the version that came to us, becoming one of the traditional festivals of the city, was the game played by the soldiers, and from that moment on the game has developed in a more popular way. It reproduces an important game in the history of the city: the one played by the Florentines in February 1530 during the siege of the Spanish troops of Charles V. While the city was under this siege commanded by the general of the king-emperor Charles V (1529-30), the Florentines decided to play their traditional “soccer” game in Santa Croce square, to show their enemies, camped nearby outside the city walls, that they were not a bit intimidated by the situation, and that this would not stop them from having fun.
After the death of the last Medici Grand Duke, Gian Gastone, in 1739, the tradition of the “Florentine football” was interrupted by the new Grand Dukes of the Lorraine House who were not interested in it. It disappears for a couple of centuries, until it is rediscovered in the modern age, in 1930, during the celebrations to commemorate the siege (400 years) and the death of Francesco Ferrucci, a hero of the Florentine Republic who died to defend his city in 1530.
In the 1920s the square of Santa Croce was established as the permanent location for the football games, because this was the place where the famous 1530 game was played. The particular situation of that occasion is then recreated, although games are no longer played during carnival, but in June, on the occasion of the feast of St. John the Baptist, patron Saint of Florence. Players are very strong men, physically robust, so to recreate the idea of those soldiers playing during rest, rather than the aristocratic game it used to be before the siege.
The first written regulations of this particular football game date back to 1555, but the official ones are considered those by Giovanni Maria de’ Bardi from 1580. The duration of the game is 50 minutes; each team consists of 27 players, including 5 goalkeepers, and the goal is to throw the ball between the wall and the net; after each goal, teams change field. In this case the net lies along the two ends of the field, and the wall is low; ball must be placed between the two, neither too low touching the wall, nor too high going over the net. Game is physically violent, causing sometimes serious injuries to players, and for this reason they have to be strong men.
Before the game, all players leave the church of Santa Maria Novella and reach the square of Santa Croce in a historic-commemorative parade.
The semifinals are played in the first two weeks of June, and the final is on June 24, St. John the Baptist’s Day.