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Muscle-bound men wrestle in Italy's Calcio Fiorentino football

  • Historical 16th Century 'alternative' to football thought to be world's most violent game still held annually
  • Teams can use 'any means necessary' to win, including headbutting, wrestling, sucker punches and kicking
  • Sport combines football, rugby and wrestling is a huge spectacle in Florence with players in traditional garbs
  • King Henry III of France famously remarked it was 'too small to be a war and too cruel to be a game'

By Laura Forsyth and Jordan Barnes For Mailonline

Published: 10:52 EDT, 11 June 2018 | Updated: 20:07 EDT, 11 June 2018

With the FIFA World Cup fast approaching it feels like everybody is indulging in the beautiful game, even if that does involve strapping tattooed men of Florence in this fiercely violent 'alternative' to football, Calcio Storico. 

The sport, played out annually in the Italian city's Santa Croce square, sees opponents challenged to knock seven bells out of one another, as well as score some points, with nothing more than glory on offer as the prize.

The annual tournament is made up of four teams comprising neighbourhoods Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green).

Matches between two sides of 27 players take place over a gruelling break-free 50 minutes and no substitutions are allowed even if there are injuries — and there are plenty of those.

It was too brutal for some, most famously King Henry III of France who watched the 1573 Calcio Storico only to remark 'too small to be a war and too cruel to be a game'.

However, not so much for Apple CEO Tim Cook who was watching this week's action from the crowd.

San Giovanni, stormed to victory over the whites with a dominant nine-and-a-half points to five scoreline. 

They will face the reds, Rossi of Santa Maria Novella, in the final on June 24, the feast day of Florence's patron saint, John the Baptist.  

Scroll down for video 

The annual Calcio Storico tournament ¿ an all-out slug-fest ¿ takes place every June in the Santa Croce centre in Florence
The annual Calcio Storico tournament ¿ an all-out slug-fest ¿ takes place every June in the Santa Croce centre in Florence

The annual Calcio Storico tournament — an all-out slug-fest — takes place every June in the Santa Croce centre in Florence

The sport's chief rule ¿ 'win at all costs' ¿ means punching, kicking wrestling and headbutting is all fair game
The sport's chief rule ¿ 'win at all costs' ¿ means punching, kicking wrestling and headbutting is all fair game

The sport's chief rule — 'win at all costs' — means punching, kicking wrestling and headbutting is all fair game

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Andrea Ceccherini watch Calcio Fiorentino Historical Florentine soccer in Santa Croce square
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Andrea Ceccherini watch Calcio Fiorentino Historical Florentine soccer in Santa Croce square

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Andrea Ceccherini watch Calcio Fiorentino Historical Florentine soccer in Santa Croce square

The relentless version of football is a huge sporting spectacle in Florence with players sporting old-fashion garbs for the occasion
The relentless version of football is a huge sporting spectacle in Florence with players sporting old-fashion garbs for the occasion

The relentless version of football is a huge sporting spectacle in Florence with players sporting old-fashion garbs for the occasion

Matches between two sides of 27 players take place over a gruelling break-free 50 minutes
Matches between two sides of 27 players take place over a gruelling break-free 50 minutes

Matches between two sides of 27 players take place over a gruelling break-free 50 minutes

The sport, played out annually in the Italian city's Santa Croce square, sees opponents challenged to knock seven bells out of one another
The sport, played out annually in the Italian city's Santa Croce square, sees opponents challenged to knock seven bells out of one another

The sport, played out annually in the Italian city's Santa Croce square, sees opponents challenged to knock seven bells out of one another

The 27-a-side game is played between four neighbourhoods Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green)
The 27-a-side game is played between four neighbourhoods Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green)

The 27-a-side game is played between four neighbourhoods Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), Santo Spirito (white), and San Giovanni (green)

There are no breaks in the 50-minute matches even if injuries do happen, as play must go on
There are no breaks in the 50-minute matches even if injuries do happen, as play must go on

There are no breaks in the 50-minute matches even if injuries do happen, as play must go on

A tattooed player prepares for battle in Florence's most violent, if not unique, historical tradition 
A tattooed player prepares for battle in Florence's most violent, if not unique, historical tradition 

A tattooed player prepares for battle in Florence's most violent, if not unique, historical tradition 

Medics on standby move out of the way in a scrap of play as two men (bottom, centre) square up for a one-on-one brawl
Medics on standby move out of the way in a scrap of play as two men (bottom, centre) square up for a one-on-one brawl

Medics on standby move out of the way in a scrap of play as two men (bottom, centre) square up for a one-on-one brawl

King Henry III of France remarked the 1573 Calcio Storico was 'too small to be a war and too cruel to be a game'
King Henry III of France remarked the 1573 Calcio Storico was 'too small to be a war and too cruel to be a game'

King Henry III of France remarked the 1573 Calcio Storico was 'too small to be a war and too cruel to be a game'

 

The sport combines elements of football, rugby and wrestling where teams have to kick a ball over a fence at the opponent's end of the field
The sport combines elements of football, rugby and wrestling where teams have to kick a ball over a fence at the opponent's end of the field

The sport combines elements of football, rugby and wrestling where teams have to kick a ball over a fence at the opponent's end of the field

Players will try and wear down their opponents by fighting
Players will try and wear down their opponents by fighting
Fighting techniques such as martial arts are also Ok
Fighting techniques such as martial arts are also Ok

Players will try and wear down their opponents with different means of fighting which are allowed such as martial arts

Players from each district of Florence will train specially all year in order to be fit for the physically challenging event
Players from each district of Florence will train specially all year in order to be fit for the physically challenging event

Players from each district of Florence will train specially all year in order to be fit for the physically challenging event

The four district teams play a series of knockout matches before the best two face each other in the grand final
The four district teams play a series of knockout matches before the best two face each other in the grand final

The four district teams play a series of knockout matches before the best two face each other in the grand final

The exact history of the Calcio is unknown, although a sport similar to the one played was popular with soldiers of the Roman Army before the city of Florence was founded
The exact history of the Calcio is unknown, although a sport similar to the one played was popular with soldiers of the Roman Army before the city of Florence was founded

The exact history of the Calcio is unknown, although a sport similar to the one played was popular with soldiers of the Roman Army before the city of Florence was founded

One player goes on a mission with the ball. After a mass brawl in 2007 the game banned for a year and new rules were introduced to prevent criminals taking part
One player goes on a mission with the ball. After a mass brawl in 2007 the game banned for a year and new rules were introduced to prevent criminals taking part

One player goes on a mission with the ball. After a mass brawl in 2007 the game banned for a year and new rules were introduced to prevent criminals taking part

Only people born in Florence or who have lived in the area for at least ten years can take part
Only people born in Florence or who have lived in the area for at least ten years can take part

Only people born in Florence or who have lived in the area for at least ten years can take part

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