In anticipation of the return of the Calcio Storico, TF spoke to Simone Calonaci, historic calciante for the Bianchi from 2000 to 2006, about what it's like to play the game, its recent history and what makes the Calcio Storico Fiorentino one of the greatest games in the world.
How did you start playing in the Calcio Storico?
When my dad took me to matches as a boy, I watched the Calcio Storico with wonder and fell in love with the game. It soon became my dream to play for the Bianchi, since I was born in San Frediano. Then I started to play soccer in the Serie C for a team in Campi Bisenzio, the Lanciotto Campi. In the meantime, I would go to see the Calcio Storico every year. Then at 33, I decided to try playing. I knew a few players on the Bianchi, so that's how I got to my first training session. I played my first game in 2000 with the Bianchi and it was a dream come true for me. It also gave me the opportunity to make many great friends.
Tell me about the game. What's the aim?
The main aim is to score. But how do you score? You score essentially by trying to take out the other team's players. The aim of most players is to pin their opponents down to the ground and keep them on the ground for the whole match or hurt them so much that they have to leave the field. It's not uncommon during games for players to get poked in the eyes, tear ligaments, sprain an ankle or get a shoulder bone knocked out of its socket. It is much easier to score if you have more men on the field than your rivals do. It gives the ‘strikers,' the position I played, the opportunity to score. Ninety percent of the time, the strongest team wins the match. It's physical strength and endurance that makes the difference.
What is the training like?
We train as any soccer team would, doing various kinds of exercises, but we also do exercises in wrestling. Then each session ends with a mock match. Clearly, the new guys must ‘pass the test' in the training sessions before they can play a real game, because if you are scared at training sessions then you'll never last in a match. The sessions are very difficult. If you are not good enough to play, there's a chance you'll stick your team with one less player during the match. So you have to be strong. To play, you have to be at your maximum, at 200 percent. In January, players start training twice a week for the Calcio Storico; then after the Scoppio del Carro at Easter, teams train three times a week.
Tell me about your first game.
We had played against the Rossi and lost 3 to 6. I'll never forget the tension when everyone leaves the field and it's you and your team members face-to-face with your opponents. Your blood races from the adrenaline mixed with fear and determination. That's when you think, ‘Why did I ever decide to do this?'
When did you play your last game?
I played my last game in 2006, when the whole controversy erupted and the tournament was cancelled. The game never even started: a brawl broke out immediately and the game was suspended. Some players, including me, were charged with aggravated assault. I'm still in legal proceedings for that game that never was.
After 2006, the tournament was cancelled for another year and it came back in 2008. In the meantime, I had opened my restaurant, so I never started playing again, even though I could have, had I wanted to.
How does one go from calciante to trattoria owner?
In addition to my love for Calcio Storico, I have always had a passion for food. So, when the tournament was suspended, I decided to open a trattoria, La Burrasca, with my partner, Elio. I had worked in the San Lorenzo area at Trattoria Mario for eight years and it was like going to food university! I learned a lot, but I also wanted to test myself to see if I could make it on my own in the restaurant business. So when the opportunity arouse, I took it. We serve seasonal foods, which is easy with the central market being so close. Our menu changes every day because I get bored easily.
What about the city's stricter rules to ‘clean things up?' Were they effective?
I think that the regulations they introduced in past years failed to provide a real solution to the problem. The new rules should have penalized those who punch others from behind or those who kick others on the ground, and those who test positive for doping. The problem was that they never made players and teams respect these rules. The Questura should never have been involved in Calcio Storico in the first place: it's a sport and a traditional event. I say this because no one is paid to play Calcio Storico. We play for free. We play because we love Florence. We choose to play because we are Florentines.
Why did things escalate so much in those years before the event was cancelled?
The players started taking the game too seriously and taking the game into the streets all year long. Players from rival teams would fight if they saw each other in a restaurant or a bar. Tensions escalated so much that some players were even shot at. The sense of sportsmanship was lost.
Do you think there will be less violence this year?
I think so. The good thing about the new rules is that fights must be one-to-one, so there shouldn't be any big brawls or cheap shots from behind. This will definitely make the game ‘cleaner.' People in the stands come to see the Calcio Storico because they want to see fighting. It is not something that you can take out of the game: if you did, it wouldn't be Calcio Storico! I think these new rules will help keep things in check and ensure good, clean fights.
How do you feel about the Calcio Storico now as a spectator and no longer a player?
Every time I walk through Santa Croce at this time of year, and I see them setting up the grandstands, I still get goose-bumps. I still watch it with the same enthusiasm I had as a child. But I can't go and see the Bianchi play, it's too emotional! It is an incredible game: e' crudo, ma bello. I've never felt such strong emotions playing a sport than when playing calcio in costume. It's a game in which you face your opponent and see exactly who he is. You see who really has balls and who doesn't.
CALCIO STORICO: THE GAME
Calcio Storico Fiorentino is an early form of football that originated in Florence in the sixteenth century. Every year, three matches are played in the third week of June. Teams of 27 battle it out on a large sand pit in piazza Santa Croce. Using both feet and hands, players try to score by throwing the ball over a designated spot on the perimeter of the field. Each game is played out for 50 minutes with the winner being the team with the most points.
Highlights of the rules for Calcio Storico 2011: