In their own words, they are the first great experiment in Italy in football club ownership by the people. With no single proprietor, no centralized control and completely collective decision making, Centro Storico Lebowski Football Club is in a different league from the rest.
With the observation that football clubs of every level can be limited by their dependence on a sole owner, the fans of C.S. Lebowski have gone in the complete opposite direction. They all own it. Shares are available for 25 euro each and everyone who owns between one and 400 shares has an equal say in club decisions, from the colour of the kit to financial organization. The small yet crucial input required from every supporter is returned in the form of results on the field and community engagement, with C.S. Lebowski going from strength to strength in the 12 years since its establishment.
The team has won three league titles and has advanced from the Terza Categoria (the lowest level of amateur football) to the Promozione, which is the sixth division of Italian football and the second division at the regional level. After several unsettled years, the club now finally has its own headquarters at La Trave sports facility, to the north of the Cascine park, and officially became a sports cooperative in 2018 to underpin their success with the assurance of collective ownership. Notably, C.S. Lebowski has recently been joined by Borja Valero, the former Fiorentina and Inter Milan midfielder with an international career for Spain’s national side.
For the past two years, Matteo Celentano has played for the first team at the amateur level, an experience that he describes as “immersive”. Referring to the strong ties between the players and the fans, both from the stands and as managers, he describes the profound sense of responsibility in representing the supporters/owners on the pitch. Celentano also explains that the team operates at the same level as the people and the city, connecting the players to their community, facilitating the club’s outreach projects.
C.S. Lebowski has branched out into a football school that currently provides 170 children access to free sporting activities in Florence’s public parks, to make sport educational. The youth teams have played against other squads in Tuscany on Saturday mornings since 2014 and are well regarded by their competitors for the attitude that is brought to the field. Following one match, even the rival coach commented that C.S. Lebowski had created a positive atmosphere, allowing children to use football as a means of self-expression and enjoyment, rather than only for results.
Ethical considerations are equally important as the club strives to combat sexism and racism. Efforts to promote women’s football derive from acknowledging the difficulties faced by women in the sport. The hope is to foster an environment in which the needs of their 20 women players are taken into account. Openness towards women has been a priority from the outset and C.S. Lebowski were the first team in Tuscany to sign up a fully female team in the Piccoli Amici children’s league. The team also prizes their diverse community of players and fans, with owners coming from five continents and teams consisting of players from a variety of cultures. The next big goal is to register asylum seekers with the Italian football association, Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio.
What started as an experiment in common ownership is working. The Florentine fan-owned football club currently boasts 1,935 members, who gather to discuss and vote on club decisions, giving what they can. The monies raised go directly to the club for kits, transport and upkeep of the facilities. C.S. Lebowski is constantly welcoming new members for those who love the sport and the community, with none of the politics that professional football can bring.