Another Football is Possible: Ten clubs Owned by their Fans

Across Europe, dozens of clubs have sprung up that were either taken over or created from scratch by their supporters as an act of resistance and protest against modern football. Here is a small selection of examples that highlight the diversity, sporting credibility and social commitment of this ‘other football’ that defies private ownership.

Clapton CFC (England)
 (Eastern Counties League Division One South – 10th tier)

With 1,700 members in more than 30 countries, Clapton Community FC enjoys unparalleled popularity in the depths of amateur football. Created only in 2018 by fans unhappy with the management’s confiscation of Clapton FC, it is already one of Europe’s benchmarks for this “other kind of football”. The buzz generated by its “away” shirt, in the colours of Republican and anti-fascist Spain in 1936, enabled the club from the East of London to make its project known outside Great Britain. Since then, its strong local roots have enabled it to acquire the historic Old Spotted Dog, London’s oldest football ground. Clapton CFC has won several trophies in both the men’s and women’s competitions. The memorable journey of the women’s team, which reached the 3rd round of the Women’s FA Cup in 2020/21, has served to highlight the inequity of the endowments.

Ménilmontant FC 1871 (France)
 (D4 Seine-Saint-Denis – 11th tier)

“Against the billionaires, against repression, popular football is our Champions League” is the chant that its supporters sing. The amateur club, based in Eastern Paris, is centered in the Ménilmontant district and its name bears the date of the Paris Commune. Self-managed, anti-fascist and libertarian, the club uses its matches to show its support for many social and emancipatory struggles, such as those of the Palestinians as well as the Kurds in Rojava. In 2019, the club released a shirt in the colours of the Palestinian flag, with part of the profits from sales going to fund a travelling library project in the Dheisheh camp, south of Bethlehem. MFC 1871 is also very committed to combating police violence, and has no other equivalent in France.

NK Zagreb 041 (Croatie)
 (2. Zagrebačka NL – 7e div.)

In the context of Balkan football that’s plagued by ultra-nationalism, NK Zagreb 041 is a rare gem. It was created in December 2014 by a section of organised supporters of NK Zagreb (Croatian champions in 2002) who disagreed with the authoritarian management and mafia-like trajectory taken by their beloved club. The White Angels (Bijeli Anđeli in Croatian), the group behind its foundation, are known as the only ultras in the country to display anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic stances and messages. Organised in a non-hierarchical, horizontal manner, NK Zagreb 041 – a reference to the Zagreb telephone code in the days of socialist Yugoslavia – is also the only club in the country to have set up, through football, concrete initiatives in solidarity with refugees.

FC United of Manchester (England)
(Northern Premier League – 7th tier)

It’s hard not to mention the Manchester-based protest club, as it has become a model for many of the collective ownership projects that have sprung up across Europe in the 21st century. The FCUM was founded in 2005 by Manchester United fans, experienced in fighting the excesses of the football business, in reaction to the club’s takeover by billionaire Malcolm Glazer. Their response: a club based on a democratic and egalitarian system in which every member has an equal say. Its motto “Our club, our rules” sums up the spirit of the fan-owned club movement. Today, the Red Rebels have a large community and their own stadium, which attracts an average of 2,000 fans. Keeping prices affordable is also one of the club’s founding principles. Two decades after its creation, and after several internal crises, FC United of Manchester remains the benchmark for fan-run clubs.

Centro Storico Lebowski (Italie)
 (Promozione Toscane – 6e div.)

In Italy, CS Lebowski – whose intriguing name pays homage to the cult film by the Coen brothers – is getting a little more attention than the others. While it does not necessarily claim the term calcio popolare as its own, it does have the main hallmarks of it: no boss and a strong community commitment. The club was founded in 2010, partly on the initiative of former Fiorentina ultras who were “tired of championships without surprises, of rankings determined by television rights and palace intrigues, […] of football without expectations and without breaks that can no longer wait until Sunday, of submission to the laws of the market that transforms the game into a commodity, of state action with its special decrees to protect the business”. The development of the Florentine club – which was able to lure Borja Valero into its fold – should be taken seriously. The club, which has also developed a free football school and seen its women’s team reach the 3rd division, dreams of going higher.

AKS Zły (Pologne)
 (Klasa A – 7e div.)

(©Piotr Maniszewski)

This Polish club was founded in the summer of 2015 at a meeting of a dozen people. A few months later, its women’s and men’s teams started playing in league football (playing in the 3rd and 7th level respectively). Equal treatment for both teams is a fundamental principle of AKS Zły, the only league club to assert anti-racist and pro-LGBT stances in Poland. The alternative club from Warsaw’s working-class Stara Praga district bills itself as the country’s first democratic club. It takes its name from the hero of a 1950s novel: a famous defender of the oppressed whose spirit can be found in the solidarity projects in which AKS Zły is involved, in the fields of education, inclusion or welcoming refugees. In its ‘den’ at the Don Pedro Arena, where admission is free and fair play takes precedence, it is the team in its category that attracts the biggest crowds.

Proodeftiki Toumba (Grèce)
 (Catégorie B – Ligue de Macédoine – 6e div.)

The Proodeftiki club, based in the Toumba district of Thessaloniki, has actually existed since 1952, founded by left-wing activists, hence its name meaning ‘progressive’. Proodeftiki was taken over in 2008 by local anarchists in the ‘Ekriksi’ (‘Explosion’) assembly, when it was on the verge of being abandoned. That’s why the club has unofficially renamed itself Proodeftiki ‘Explosion’ Toumba. In a city riven by rivalry between its main clubs and where PAOK hooligans caused the death of an Aris fan by stabbing just over a year ago, Proodeftiki stands out. And its official colours, now purple and black, are a nod to anarcho-feminism; it’s a mockery of the patriarchal stereotypes conveyed by football. In the stands, the club also keeps these values alive by refusing sexist slogans, preferring instead those in solidarity with their imprisoned revolutionary comrades.

UC Ceares (Spain)
 (Tercera RFEF – 5th tier)

UC Ceares, a team from a working-class district of Gijón, has been in existence since 1946, but it has been enjoying a second lease of life since 2011, when a group of socios advocating an alternative to commercial football took over the reins by winning the elections. Just as it was on the verge of disappearing, the popular shareholding model breathed new life into the club. Modest in every sense of the word, UC Ceares adopted the slogan “Last in money, first in hearts” for its first membership campaign. The momentum has paid off: the number of socios has quadrupled and the Estadio La Cruz – where any sexist, homophobic or racist insult is banned – has been repopulated. A match there has the air of an ‘English’ atmosphere, right down to the facade where a big sign reads ‘Against Modern Football’.

US Città di Fasano (Italia)
 (Serie D – 4th tier)


US Città di Fasano is the highest-ranking of the Italian fan-run clubs. It is also one of the few not to have been created from scratch by its supporters. Since January 2016, the fans have taken over the reins of the club in the form of popular shareholding via the ‘Il Fasano siamo noi’ association, saving it from yet another bankruptcy. This change of model led to a sporting revival, with the club climbing along the league ladder with two promotions in a row (in 2017 and 2018) to reach Serie D, where it is currently based. These are admirable results for a club with one of the smallest budgets in its division. The club is run by around fifty salaried employees, including thirty or so low-paid players, and fifteen or so volunteers from the ‘Il Fasano siamo noi’ association, which manages the administrative side of the club and has almost 700 members. “Il Fasano siamo noi’ has succeeded in re-establishing the club as an actor in local life and, more broadly, in making a name for itself in the land of football that is Puglia (a region in Southeastern Italy).

PAC Omonia “29th of May” (Cyprus)
 (Πρωτάθλημα Β΄ Κατηγορίας – 2nd tier)

With the People Athletic Club “Omonia 29M”, Gate 9 supporters have decided to perpetuate the history of AC Omonia, a club historically linked to the Cypriot communist movement. The sale of the latter to a businessman precipitated the creation of PAC Omonia. “Our main slogan is ‘We don’t start, we continue’, because we believe that the new club bears the values of the founders of 1948”. Gate 9 is the guardian of a strong social and anti-fascist identity. Since 2018, the club has climbed the ladder one by one to the 2nd division, resisting the twists and various sanctions imposed by the authorities. With just a few games to go before the end of the 2023/24 season, it is on the verge of becoming the first club democratically managed by its fans to reach the professional elite. As Gate 9 prophetically announced: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and in the end you beat them”. What seemed like a mad gamble in 2018 has become a reality!

Asteras Exarcheion (Greece), Ideale Bari, Brutium Cosenza, Cava United, Frazione Calcistica Dal Pozzo (Italy), Unionistas de Salamanca, CAP Ciudad de Murcia, UD Ourense, CFP Orihuela (Spain), KSK Beveren (Belgium), and City of Liverpool (England) could also have featured in this selection.

Traduction: Alex (@alraven3)

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