Of all the reasons to found a football club, basing it on a 1990s cult film doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Then again, we’re not Centro Storico Lebowski. As Barley Nimmo explains, they’re far from your average team.
Just a twenty-minute bus journey outside of Florence is a club, an idea, a group of fans, who seem to have found a route back into footballing purity. Centro Storico Lebowski, with their iconic emblem of ‘the Dude’ (from the 1998 cult classic, ‘The Big Lebowski’), casts a peculiar image on the lowly Italian division of Promozione Girone C.
A club now owned entirely by its fans, Centro Storico Lebowski encompasses for many exactly what football and football fandom should be all about. Turning up at the stadium, rain or shine, having a beer with your mates and, no matter the result, singing your heart out for 95 minutes.
With numerous match-fixing scandals surfacing and increased repression on supporters, Italian football in the early 2000s left a lot to be desired. At a growing rate, the reasoning for supporters journeying to the stadium every week seemed insufficient.
So, after skipping school in 2004, a group of teenagers from Florence got hold of an amateur football magazine, desperately trying to find salvation from the problems in Italy’s top leagues.
It is here where they found a report on a team that had just lost 8-2, who lay bottom of their division and boasted the lowest scoring record. But it was one line, at the very end of the report, that catalysed the collective energy of the group. It simply read: “Lebowski would break, but not bend.” That day the group decided they would become the first organised Ultras for the Lebowskis.
Over the next few weeks, the boys prepared, getting their mums to sew flags and figured out the lyrics to songs. The beauty of Lebowski started from there and, after three years of support, the group became the Ultimi Rimasti Lebowski (The Last Remaining Lebowskis) – a name they still go by today.
“My life didn’t change because I am the leader of Lebowski, my life changed because of Lebowski. It is an idea, something under the skin, in the heart, with my friends. It’s something very deep inside, it’s difficult to explain.”
Duccio, Leader of the Ultimi Rimasti
As the popularity of their cause spread across Tuscany’s hills, the group became bigger, more organised and, most importantly, louder. In 2010 after six years of passionate fandom, the group decided to take ownership of their club, building the team to align with the supporters’ philosophy. And so, Centro Storico Lebowski was born (the Historic Centre of Lebowski).
“Everything here is born from the Ultras. The first thing here is the Curva, the terraces. I obviously feel responsibility for the actions of Lebowski and our community, but it is not just me. Everyone is Lebowski, everyone is responsible.”
Duccio, Leader of the Ultimi Rimasti
The club and its supporters’ dedication to helping each other and those in surrounding areas is apparent throughout. As I arrive for their clash against Sporting Cecina, the bar is full with people taking beers out the fridge and leaving the correct amount by the till.
On the walk up towards the already roaring, bouncing Moana Pozzi stand, there is a stall raising money by selling bruschetta. All funds raised on match days and by other means go towards the running of the club and the numerous other Ultra-run social initiatives.
The most notable of these is a football school run for disadvantaged children. Set up in the local suburb of San Frediano, the project aims to provide opportunities and support for families in one of the more deprived areas surrounding Florence.
“In 2013, one of the guys from San Frediano, one of our brothers, Bollo, died. For us it was a breaking point, we organised ourselves and created our own football school and named it after him, La Scuola Calcio Francesco ‘Bollo’.”
Alfredo, Lebowski Ultra since 2013
The school now caters for over 100 kids. Families pay just €50-a-year for administration and kit, and in return the Ultras and surrounding Lebowski community cover everything else, providing support for the families of the children attending the school.
“The major part is covered by our self-run activities, for example, we organise a fried fish food party twice a year. We raise thousands of euros and all the money goes towards inclusive social policies in all our activities, from the kids in the football school, to the guys in our first team.”
Alfredo, member of the Ultimi Rimasti
Lebowski go on to win the game 1-0 but the action in the stands doesn’t stop there. From the first whistle until far beyond the last, Duccio gets the crowd going. Supported by the lone drummer, the Lebowski crowd never stops.
Songs are chanted on loop – sometimes for twenty minutes – but those in attendance never lose interest. As the game ends, the team come over to the supporters. Despite standing on the other side of the wire fence, they feel part of the collective.
Mimicking the movements of those in the crowd, the players raise their hands in the air, awaiting Duccio’s command.
On mass, supporters and players receive the battle cry and start bouncing, singing and clapping. As the flares again erupt, it’s a scene which seems worlds apart from the repetitive, often soulless arenas of Serie A.
Here, at Lebowski, there is a community. Everyone has a part to play and everyone has a voice. After the match, the bar fills up again. Players come out of the dressing room and join in the festivities.
Diego Cubillos is one of Lebowski’s star players. He’s had somewhat of a nomadic career, starting off in the youth academy of Serie A side Siena before representing numerous other outfits across Italy’s various divisions. Now at Lebowski, he senses he’s found his place.
“The society here is incredible, the Ultras are the family. They helped me make my mind up completely. For me, this is football, without the supporters it means nothing. When you score, you hear the Ultras and you feel you are playing for something real.”
Diego Cubillos, Lebowski player
Speaking to Diego gives off the impression that, for the players like for the supporters, Lebowski is special. What started as a means of defying repression now, 15 years on, is the symbol of community. Their ideas and commitment to their club is infectious. Who knows where this journey will take them next.
Follow Barley on Twitter @barleynimmo