In the Florentine Historic Kickball (Soccer/Football) there are many souls that unite together.
There is the one that reminds us of the great Republican Florence, the popular more rebellious and bloody one, the one of a city open to tourism, the artistic one of a thousand colors, and the one moved by a sentiment of victory. All of these can be found in the heart of the city on the feast day of San Giovanni (Saint John), on 24th June. First, we should mention the fundamental rules.
Teams of 27 players, the kickers, on a rectangular field covered with sand, in Piazza Santa Croce. Two long and short nets placed at the one side and the other of the field, a ball which is competed for and that should end up in the opposing team’s net. If the strike is successful, the team that made it wins a “caccia” (literally, a hunt), if the strike is unsuccessful and ends up high over the net, the team loses half a caccia. Everything is valid in the game, from the use of hands, feet, and even tackling the members of the other team with the maximum strength, but always in an honorable and sportsmanlike manner.
An ancient sport that has been played for centuries. The greatest and most historical game ever played was the one of 17th February 1530, when a Republican Florence was occupied by Charles V’s army. 36 years earlier, Pier Capponi had told the French King Charles VIII “you will ring your trumpets, we will ring our bells”. With this spirit, Florence was opposing another monarch and it was doing it with great pride.
Traditionally, the game should be played during the period of Carnevale (pre-Lent period) and the Florentine people wanted to prove that they would not renounce to the competition. Therefore, while the enemy was surrounding the walls built by Michelangelo and there was a shortage of wheat, Florence showed its calmness and tranquility by playing the match joyously and solemnly, in Piazza Santa Croce. Trumpets and music had the aim of presenting those who were mortaring the city with a climate of celebration making it impossible for the latter to take the city down for another six months.
History and legend unite in that memory that still inspire today’s matches, even though at the time the kickers were 25 per team. Today, the San Giovanni match, marks the final game of a tournament to which four teams participate. There is a team for each historical neighborhood of the city: San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce and Santo Spirito.
These are respectively the Green, the Red, The Light Blue and the White teams. These are the colors of the teams that face each other in two semifinals to participate to the final on 24th June. In the name of those colors, the popular tradition lets out an authentic passion for the urban rivalry that is felt by every neighborhood and is transformed in a hunger for victory. Here is where the game finds its anger and its strength, the unleashing of the muscles and the movements of the teams during the game together with the crowd’s shouts and cheers. Everything comes to life, from the flying hits to the flying of patches of clothing, on the limit between honorable violence, allowed by the regulation, and an uncontrollable passion that has sometimes led to the suspension of matches and even of tournaments. In the physicality of the kickers reemerges the history of the ancient popular trades, which required mainly strength and sometimes even a rebellious inclination where rules could hardly be followed and putting to a great challenge the abilities of the Master of the Field.
The tournament’s final is the finish line of a great urban choreography, which gets its moves from the colorful parade where both noblemen and commoners are mixed together.
It is a proper military parade, in XVI century costumes, opened by the municipality’s Standard escorted by the captain and the sergeants of the “Otto di guardia e di balia” (The Eight of the guard and the safety). Then, the Master of the Field wearing black velvet with his escort of cavalry cornetist and officials follows in the parade. Moreover, there are members of other important roles in the Signoria, the “pallaio” (ball maker) with the game balls, referees, musicians and officials. Each of the neighborhoods parades with its banners. At the head, there are the commissioner, the captain and the standard-bearer, followed by the halberdiers, harquebus soldiers, crossbowmen, flag makers, bombardiers, foot soldiers of various types, sergeants, musicians and other representatives of various offices, of the ancient arts and of the different social ranks. The kickers’ teams are the essential element of the parade, wearing colorful uniforms, which are then destined to be covered in dust and be ripped.
The people watching do the rest of the choreography. Amongst them, there are those Florentines who are proud of that history and its representation. There are moved and curious tourists and there are the fans of the two finalists who, by observing the faces of the kickers, hope to find a will for victory while the fans of the teams that did not make it to the final that hope to find in their faces a wish for revenge.