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Sep 26, 2019

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Meet UEFA’s Grassroots Champions: AKS ZLY

SD Europe applauds AKS Zly on winning UEFA’s Best Grassroots Club Award for 2019! Their achievement is symbolic recognition of the work carried out by all the supporters across the SD Europe network involved in the management of their football clubs who instill the same values.

AKS Zly is the first ever democratic sports club in the Polish capital of Warsaw. It was founded by fans in 2015, and is entirely and directly managed by the supporters, athletes and coaches who want to participate in its development.

SD Europe CEO, Antonia Hagemann said: “Congratulations to our friends from AKS ZLY! The entire SD Europe network celebrates with you. This award is well deserved: AKS Zly is run by supporters for the benefit of their community. The social values and principles of AKS Zly are worth being celebrated well beyond this award and they set a great example for all of football to follow.”

We spoke to Zly devotee Kris Gorniak to delve deeper into the culture, origins, plans for the future and what this award means to the football club.

 

What is ZLY’s story? How did it start and why? What does Zly represent for you? 

‘There is a pub in Praga – in the right bank district of Warsaw – called Offside. Known for two things – punk rock concerts and live football games. As with every bar it has a group of frequent visitors. These groups agreed finally that there is a place for fan-owned club in Warsaw, to follow this revolution started by FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon and others. 

AKS “Zły“, which means bad or evil in Polish, want to act against modern football, the commercialisation and in the Polish political environment; the radicalisation of fans. The name is taken from the well-known novel by Leopold Tyrmand, and ZŁY is kind of polish Batman, fighting hooliganism in Warsaw.’

 

How is the club structured and run in a sustainable way? What is the relationship with the community

‘Of course from the very beginning we acted in a financially sustainable way. We didn’t have any credibility, so we needed to organise real funds for all activities. In the first year, it was a crowdfunding campaign and a lot of concerts and cultural events, in the following years we started small sponsor partnerships, and currently we’re happy to have Fritz Kola as our front Jersey partner. 

All partners believe in our mission: to organise football in a way that is open for whole families, whenever they come from, and to all the people that love this game.

From the very beginning we wanted to work in the Praga district of Warsaw, organising football activities for kids, but also cooperating in local activities, we were gathering funds for a victim of a house fire, we cooperate with other local activities too.’

Your story is a unique answer to modern football. Many fans in Europe have chosen a similar way to rediscover the social value of football, what doesn’t work in football today? Which factors can improve football and which is the role of fans in this era?

‘Well, here in Poland the league football doesn’t work at all. People don’t like to participate in games, ‘cause they don’t feel safe. Clubs often are financed by debt or by city halls with no transparency. Salaries are crazy but the league is getting worse and worse compared to Europe. We’re happy to have a talented generation of players, but it doesn’t have any impact on local reality. It’s the same with women’s football, on the one hand, it is rapidly growing, on the other it is facing huge financial problems and every year there are clubs disappearing. We have a deep feeling that football in Poland is not organised properly. 

We encourage all higher league clubs, to help establish true supporters’ trusts.  95% of fans are real club supporters that would like to help their club on a daily basis, but they are browbeaten and do nothing. We believe this has to be changed.’

 

What is the next goal? What is the vision for Zly over the next 5 years? 

‘We have plenty of goals to achieve. Currently, we’re working on a female basketball team, which will start in the 2nd league on October 5th. In football, during the next 5 years, we would like to win a promotion at least every second year. We would like to have a crowd of 1000 people at games and 400 club members. And we would like to have our own academy. And a place to live, because we share the stadium now with other clubs.’

 

How will this award affect you and the SD Europe network going forward?

‘We think this award is a recognition of all our work both at the club and in SD Europe. We hope it will be a door opener for our initiatives, maybe it will help to achieve our goals. We’re very happy with it.’

Get in touch with the SD Europe team via our Contact Us page. Read all the latest news about LIAISE here. Follow SD Europe on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates!  

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