On a bitterly cold January day in Florence, there was nothing unusual at CS Lebowski on first glance. The fans, as usual, provided non-stop vocal support for their side as they took on Resco Reggello in Galluzzo.
But in the stands that day was London-born Gavin Ferguson, and he was not just there as a visitor. The 27-year-old had been living in a number of different countries with his Argentinian girlfriend, finally opting to settle in Italy due to her Italian ancestry, along with a love of the country’s food and football. They had looked around Matera and Rome, before finally opting for Florence around five months ago.
Having played for his university side in Glasgow and local football in London, Ferguson was on the lookout for a team. It is here where the story becomes interesting, as CS Lebowski became his intended destination. Inspired by his friend Ronan – who had read the incredible story of the team via The Gentleman Ultra on Guardian Sport – Ferguson contacted the club via their Facebook page.
Perhaps not fully expecting a response, incredibly he was invited to come down to training. “I was working for an English language school and I did not finish until 5.30PM,” Ferguson exclusively told The Gentleman Ultra. “The training started at 6 and they said ‘don’t worry, we’ll send someone to your work to pick you up!’ I could not believe one of the fans took time out of his own life to drive to my work, and he had never met me before!”
This was just another example of Lebowski’s community-based spirit, a spirit detailed in the article that had alerted Ferguson to the club in the first place. Indeed, recent examples of this altruistic work are best illustrated in the club's creation of a local school of football, based on the famed La Masia academy in Barcelona.
Lebowski informed Ferguson that they wanted to sign him. This process was far from simple however, held up by the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a certificate of residence, which is required to register for the league.
But the Florentine club had a solution once again, as one of their members is a lawyer, and according to Ferguson, worked for free in order to jump through the appropriate hoops. “He spent hours and hours of his own time to get my certificate of residence in time for meeting the deadline of signing for the club,” the midfielder confirmed. “The cost would have been through the roof if I had to pay for it, he’s a top lawyer by the looks of his office. So there’s two examples of people being really really generous, putting their own time in to help the club.”
With the registration complete, Ferguson was eligible to play but is still waiting for his chance. “I play holding midfield and I’m very disappointed to not be in the squad today,” he explained. “I’ve played entire friendlies but have only played 15 minutes of competitive football. I’m just going to keep trying and doing my best, I never miss training. Hopefully I’ll be in the team soon.”
Unable to speak Italian, Ferguson often struggles to understand what is going on within the team. But the experience of one Englishman in the side gives real insight into the very principles that led him to the club in the first place. “They run really good social events,” he enthused. “On the last or the first Wednesday of every month, everybody eats and drinks together in a community building and they do a bit of karaoke. I sang Wonderwall with one of the other players in the first month I was here!”
Very recently, just around the corner, they had their Christmas dinner party which was amazing. The club has its own school of football and there were lots of children and their families in this huge hall they had rented out, alongside all the first team players. There were children together with the Ultras, you really notice the sense of community.
Discussing the incredible support for the team, Ferguson describes one occasion when he was eating dinner with the rest of the players before heading to an away match. “We finished our food and just as we were about to leave, I could sense that there was something going on outside, but I didn’t know what,” he said. “We left the cafe and then all of the fans were waiting outside for us, with flares and singing Lebowski songs. They were signing for about five minutes and then they came over and everyone started hugging and shaking hands.”
But this was no ordinary setting. “It’s not like London where all the pitches are the same, just fields surrounded by buildings. This was a beautiful Tuscan valley and they were singing and the voices were echoing all around.”
Full of anecdotes, Ferguson also describes the ‘crazy manager’ who gave a full hour of hairdryer treatment after the side lost, with the Englishman sitting there incredulous and not understanding a word of his ranting. None of this is normal, however, as he explains.
“At this level, I can’t stress enough how unusual this is. The balance between how good the team are and how good the supporters are is huge. The other team aren’t used to playing in front of a crowd, but our team is,” he explains. “So, for example, the last two times other teams have taken penalties against us, they have missed both of them, and I think it’s something to do with the fact they are just not accustomed to being watched by this number of people and the noise they create.”
With the flares and the noise, people who are not accustomed to this football culture may immediately think of violence and hooliganism. On the contrary, the philosophy of this set of Ultras is inclusion and togetherness.
“There was a touching moment at the end of an away game,” Ferguson beams. “There is a disabled fan who attends every Lebowski game with his dad. It was the last game before Christmas and at the end of the game, the players went to the stand where the away fans were and presented the disabled fan with a Christmas present. He was encouraged by the other fans to open the present in front of everyone. He did, and it was a nice new Lebowski tracksuit top.”
Undeterred by losing their bid to retain their home at San Donnino, fan-owned CS Lebowski continue their programme of inclusion; welcoming all who want to watch the team, opening a school of football, and now they have an English born player amongst them as well. If only he could get a game.
Words by Chloe Beresford: @ChloeJBeresford
'Chloe is a freelance football writer for @footballitalia and @UnusualEfforts. Her work has also been featured in @MundialMag and @guardian_sport, and she regularly travels to Florence to watch her beloved Fiorentina and CS Lebowski.'