By David Orr – Writer
Two tattooed, lumbering men hold each other in a temporary embrace, one with a striped multi-colored ball under his arm like a cradled baby, the other wearing a face streaked with sweat, dust and menace. The embrace lasts a second, before the former viciously elbows the latter in the stomach, then throws a blow that would obliterate a piece of American drywall. The setting is nowhere near America, Britain, or for that matter, present day Italy. It is Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce, which every June is re-made to reflect ancient times evoking the period 59 AD, where Romans ruled, Emperor Nero had just executed his mother, and you were approximately – 1900 years old. And the game? It is the fantastically war-like Calcio Storico di Firenze, played on the temporary battlefield of Santa Croce, where armies of selfie-stick wielding tourists are swept to one side, and in their place, real-life gladiators enter, armed with nothing but pomp, fists, and camel-like deltoids. There are 27 player to a side, which is roughly equivalent to five football teams playing on the same pitch. Equal parts rugby, football, and WWE wrestling, the game is premised on the basic tenants of a Michael Bay movie. While bodies collide like highway pile-ups, there is a loose objective to move the ball into your opponent’s goal by any means possible. Any means, to be clear, equates to on-field pile-drivers, body-slam tackles, round-houses to the face, and basically anything short of using a concealed weapon.
There are four teams – Red, White, Blue and Green – representing the neighborhoods of Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, Santa Croce, and San Giovanni respectfully. You can go and cheer for your own district, or you can just revel in the extraordinary display of manliness. There is a great deal of pomp, synchronized flag-throwing, drum-pounding, and trumpet-blowing, all ceremonies seemingly required to counter the sheer lack of rules during the game. There is something unique about an ancient game being authentically recreated in a modern setting, where giants dressed in gladiator garb sip out of plastic water-bottles, where real fights occur before throngs of flown-in tourists who have never seen war, and where a corner of Florence turns inward to pay tribute to a game steeped in its own history. The tournament starts June 15, White against Red, while June 16 Green plays Blue.
June 24 is the final.