Monday, June 16, 2014

They call it football, but some things just doesn't translate

To the SEC gridiron jocks who think they are tough: You are a bunch of wimps compared to the church boys from Florence.
The parade and entertainment before the game

Sunday we watched a sport that puts WWF wrestling, arena football and demolition derby in the "fit for preschoolers" category. Calcio Storico Fiorentino. Each year in Florence, just before the June 24 St. John the Baptist holiday, the four neighborhoods with cathedrals get together for no-holds-barred "football" in the piazza of the Santa Croce basilica. Saturday, the Whites from Santo Spirito beat the Blues from Santa Croce. Tonight we had tickets in the Green section, rooting for San Giovanni Baptistery against the Reds of Santa Maria Novella.

Big, mean Green machine
The "sport" that dates back at least to the 1400s (or maybe to Roman times) is more a mini war than a game. But it is so engrained in Florentine culture that in 1530, they sent a "screw you" message to the attacking Holy Roman Empire and played the game instead of going to battle. Florence proudly continues both that sentiment and the game.

Enthusiastic Green fans
That ancient background lends itself to pageantry, something the Florentines are very good at. Period-dressed musketeers, crossbow archers, horsemen, nobles and others Galileo would know march into Piazza deal Signoria and then on to Piazza Santa Croce to the sound of massed drums and bugles. A highpoint for me was the company of flag bearers who toss their flags high into the air, then catch them with aplomb. They even toss them in wide arcs to each other -- and no one missed.
Simon said, in English

We watched San Giovanni (the Greens) lose to Santa Maria Novella (the Reds), who now will go to the finals against Santo Spirito (the Whites) who beat Santa Croce (the Blues) the night before. Simon, an English-speaking student sitting next to us, explained the rules. Which really can't be explained unless you are Florentine. Basically, no murder. If you kick someone in the head -- while they are down -- or rabbit punch from the back, you are expelled.

The basic strategy is to send out a line of big, tough, tattooed guys for the first 20 minutes and try to knock out the strongest competitors. Then the teams run the round ball while trying to not-quite kill each other. Put the ball in a stadium-wide net and you get a point. Go over and the other team gets half a point.

It's just a game. Or a brawl, or maybe a war
We got into the game fever and jumped up to shout "Picchia Verde, Picchia Verde Eh, Eh!" while shaking our fists at the Reds. It means something like "Go, Greens and beat the crap out of the other guys but don't let the refs see you and toss you out."Keith Greenwood, a fellow Mizzou prof here teaching arts journalism to a band of our students, was with us in the stands (and later for vino and good food). He is a photo journalism professor, so we got to talk shop (his camera is much cooler than mine, but I also had a 3-D camera in my bag.)

Keith Greenwood
You only had to look at the end of the game to see how seriously Florence's neighborhood tough guys treat the game. A Green player was ejected for kicking a Red guy while he was down. But instead of glumly shuffling to the sidelines, he refused to leave and played on. This caused a referee to suspend the game and give it to the Reds by default. And then, of course, another referee tackled the first referee.
We were in the stands

The Greens were upset for a few minutes, but then reverted back to the 1530 attitude. The all walked toward the Green fan section pumping their arms and saying something that needed no translation:

"Screw it."

(There was so much to see that I created a special Flickr album of photos of the game.)

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