The Italian Almanac

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renaissance soccer

Renaissance Soccer

Florence has given its rich but rough Renaissance soccer pageant a red card after two years of bloody brawls. Officials said the famed Calcio Storico tournament - a rival in pomp and passion to Siena's Palio - was taking a year off to let tempers cool. "Hopefully we'll get the ball rolling again in 2008," said City Popular Traditions Councillor Eugenio Giani.

Each June, around the feast of the city's patron John the Baptist, Calcio Storico pits city quarters against each other in red-hot historic rivalry. A mix of soccer, rugby, Greco-Roman wrestling and bare-knuckle fighting, Calcio Storico - historic soccer, or soccer in livery - is not for the squeamish. Like the Siena bare-back horse race, grand ceremony and glorious staging are the backdrop to a contest of almost primal ferocity.

The people of the different neighbourhoods dress up in replica Renaissance finery - perfect down to the last detail - and parade through the city before the match. The players, too, sport traditional jerkins and breeches in the colours of the city's main historic churches - the Sky Blues (Santa Croce), the Whites (Santo Spirito), the Greens (St John) and the Reds (Santa Maria Novella). But once the medieval cannon goes off for the start of the contest, costumed posturing gives way to age-old savagery.

Games usually end with torn shirts, tattered breeches, sweaty bodies covered in cuts and bruises, and skimpily clad girlfriends rushing on to succour their heroes. Settling debts and grudges is just part of the fun, fans say - but it can turn nasty. In 2005, police opened probes against more than 40 players, with two of them accused of grievous bodily harm. Last year more than 50 were taken to court after a huge brawl out broke at the start of the first match, leading to the suspension of the tournament. Now officials have called off this year's edition altogether.