Spartak Lecce

For those who aren't familiar with the Italian lower leagues, the name Spartak Lecce won't be a familiar one. Paul Grech looks at the remarkable club from Lecce, the Football Club with a Fighting Mentality.

If by some flight of fancy you ever happen to be going through the tables of Italy's Terza Categoria, the lowest level of Italian football, you will come across a host of clubs who have clearly been inspired by some of the game's giants; clubs like Real Vidigulfo, Sporting Nissa and River Platani.

Among the most exotic of such clubs there is Spartak Lecce whose name you would imagine is a nod to the Russian side from Moscow.  But you would be wrong.

"The name is an homage to Spartacus, the slave who challenged the empire for his and his friends' freedom," explains the club's president Sabrina Abbrescia.  "We see modern football in today's society as the empire and want to fight it so that we can get back that which is ours by right." 

For those whose history of Imperial Rome is a little bit rusty (or who haven't caught any one of the various cinematic adaptations detailing his life) Spartacus was a gladiator who turned on his owners and became one of the leaders in the slave uprising that came to be known as the Third Servile War.  For this reason he is often projected as an example of the downtrodden fighting back against those who oppress them.

Spartacus, wearing a barbarian's helmet, features prominently on Spartak Lecce's badge that also features a leather ball - a symbol of a by-gone era where football was more than a business - and a broken chain that represents the club's ambition to be a break from the way things are currently done.  On the captain's armband, then, there are the images of black and red flags; the emblem of the anti-fascist group 'Antifaschistische Aktion'.

"We see modern football in today's society as the empire and want to fight it so that we can get back that which is ours by right."

All of which indicate that this isn't a normal club.  Again, Sabrina picks up the narrative.

"The team is the result of a project called Football Without Frontiers (Calcio Senza Confini) which is organised by the cultural association Bfake.  This is a 9-a-side football tournament organised in Lecce for the past 5 years where the main messages are against racism and any form of discrimination.  That tournament is played every weekend from March to July, hosting migrant communities, associations and common citizens."

"After five years we decided to take our battle to a national level and as a result set up Spartak Lecce."

Given the largely empty stadia that regularly host Italian football games - particularly outside of the Serie A - and the racism that still blights the game, as witnessed by Kevin Prince Boateng's decision to leave the pitch after being abused during a friendly with Pro Patria, it is hard not to appreciate her view of things.

"Today's modern sport system has lost all traces of social value and gradually is losing anything remotely positive about it.  Football in Italy has become a degrading experience and we feel that starting from the bottom we can bring about change and promote a sport which is of a social value.  The same is happening in other cities all over Italy."

Having set up the club there was then the need to build up a squad.  "Initially, the idea was to ask every team who used to take part in our tournament to provide two players.  Not everyone managed to stick to that guideline but ultimately the squad reflects all the realities of the football without frontiers project."

"Football in Italy has become a degrading experience and we feel that starting from the bottom we can bring about change and promote a sport which is of a social value.  The same is happening in other cities all over Italy."

Indeed, with players from Morocco and the Tamil region of India among others - "they come from all walks of life: workers, students, immigrants." - this team is the living proof of such a concept.

For all the good intentions behind this team's formation getting the approval to play with such a multi-cultural team wasn't straightforward.  With rules for clubs at this level clearly stating that there can only be one extracomunitario (players from outside the EU) it looked as if Spartak were going to have to ask for a special dispensation in order to get to play. 

But then a more in-depth analysis of the regulations and a fair bit of ingenuity provided them with a loophole.  Indeed, it was discovered that if the foreign players were never registered with their home federation and their first registration was with the Italian FA then they would count as local players.  Given that most of the players Spartak were looking to register were either born in Italy to immigrant parents or had pre-occupations more serious than football before they left their home country, this has allowed them to register the players they want.  To boot, their knowledge of the rules is such that they've become the reference point for other clubs.

Spartak Lecce are also being seen as a model club for the way that they are structured. "We're owned by the members," Sabrina explains.  Community owned clubs are increasingly common in England but in Italy they are still a novelty.  "There are different types of shares which can be bought and every shareholder is effectively the owner of the club.  Then we organise get togethers, meals and sell merchandise to raise funds."

With a sizable following intent on having fun and partying during the team's games - unsurprisingly, German side St. Pauli are cited as one of the club's inspirations - Spartak might well prove to be the inspiration for the revolution that they're hoping to bring about.

Written by Paul Grech

Paul's other work can be found here