As an outsider to the of the Italian city of Florence it is hard to make sense of the violence, dirt and hype that surrounds the sport known as Calcio Storico (translated to “historic football“), but every year locals come in droves to watch the annual Fight Club Firenze. Held last weekend in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce, the semi finals commenced between Verdi and Bianchi containing plenty of action.

Although the translation is “football”, it is far from the contemporary sport played around the world, rather taking inspiration from Roman legionaries’ games, creating a crossover between rugby, handball, and boxing. According to the playbook, matches last for 50 minutes and are played on a rectangular field covered with sand and dirt with a line through the middle, and goals either end. Each team consists of 27 players – no subs are allowed. The ultimate aim of the game is to score a ‘Caccia’ throwing the ball in the net on the opponents side. There are no other rules, but referees are put in place to break up any brawls (they often fail) making for a dirty and bloody battle.

The tournament goes back hundreds of years, back to the 16th century, re-enacting the match held on February 17, 1530. At the time, Florence was besieged by the Imperial troops of Charles V and in response the Florentines held a match in Piazza Santa Croce, displaying nonchalance for the surrender. The event has been remembered by the locals since 1930 among the teams of four districts of the city: the Rossi di Santa Maria Novella, the Verdi di San Giovanni, the Bianchi di Santo Spirito and the Azzurri di Santa Croce.

No money exchanges hands and the winner of the tournament simply receives a white cow in commemoration of their efforts as well as bragging rights.