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A violent and cruel sport surrounded by the most beautiful works of art

BarcelonaProud as they are, the Florentines have managed to make everyone think that they have been playing for centuries historical soccer. It is not true. For more than two centuries this violent sport was not practiced. The laws did not allow it and it ended up becoming a topic of conversation on those beautiful Tuscan nights when the sun goes down. The Florentines remembered the great matches of the past, they made sure that the new generations were aware that this sport had existed, but if a match was played, it was in a nearby village and half hidden. Until fascism arrived.

If he soccer Florentine or historical soccer, now very famous, with thousands of tourists trying to find a place in the stands of the sports complex that at the end of June is installed in Santa Croce square, came back to life, it was thanks to fascism. It’s not talked about much, but that’s how it was. In 1930, the city of Florence prepared events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the siege of the city by the imperial troops of Charles V. History, in Italy, is always very much alive, well present. And the fascist leader Alessandro Pavolini proposed to recreate the parties of soccer Florentine that were played in the city four centuries ago. Pavolini was an early fascist, one of those who had marched on Rome and would be loyal to Mussolini to the end, and he met his death when the partisans caught him in 1945. Pavolini’s initiative served to create the current version of this sport that divides the city into four districts: the whites of Santo Spirito, the reds of Santa Maria Novella, the greens of San Giovanni and those who have won the most hits, the blues of Santa Croce.

The historical socceror Florentine, is a descendant of ball games already practiced by the Romans, such asharpastum. In fact, as in this game practiced by Roman soldiers to train themselves, there are 27 players per team. Throughout the Middle Ages we have similar games played throughout much of Europe. And the young Florentines were causing so much trouble that in 1580 Count Giovanni Bardi was the first to write down some rules. Bardi, by the way, is also one of the fathers of modern opera. In Florence, art coexists with brutality. Always with the same pride.

The game basically consists of getting a ball into cages, a kind of goal, at the bottom of the playing field. If the ball goes in it adds up to two points, but a mistake in the shot would give half a point to the opponent. And yes, it’s brutal. Punches, strangulation, elbows are allowed… The few rules prohibit low blows, putting fingers in the eye or more than one player beating an opponent who has fallen to the ground.

The players end up with blood on their faces, their shirts torn and the crowd, maddened, calling for more blood. Since the players are men who live in the neighborhoods, they have their neighbors and relatives in the stands, defending the honor of the district. The bond with the neighborhood is so strong, that it is normal for them to play on the same team, defending each other like brothers, fascists and communists; or the first African immigrants who have already made Florence their home, and who are willing to sacrifice their health to win the games. The matches last 50 minutes and it is normal to see rivals fighting without even knowing where the ball is.

With the return in 1930 of historical soccer a sport that at the time was something for aristocrats was recovered. It’s not like that anymore, now. But it remains in the memory that this sport has been practiced by three Popes of Rome, all members of the famous Medici family. One of them, Clement VII, went so far as to organize parties in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Not the most surprising match, though. Every time the Arno River froze over, matches were organized on it. If it’s violent enough, imagine it on ice.

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