This article is a continuation of our series on modern football. The first article dealt with the opening of the Slovak National Football Stadium in March 2019. Here we will focus on something different – a democratic unmodern football club – Futbalová Komunita Kozmos – Football community Kozmos.
First off, let’s recap what we understand under the term modern football.
“We understand it as a process, in which the phenomenon of football becomes a commercial product, meant to be consumed by customers, sometimes referred to as fans, at the stadium or as viewers behind the TV. It is connected to huge investment projects and to the flow of private funds into clubs, mostly to purchase players, figurative, modern mercenaries and gladiators in new arenas – stadiums without personalities and most often without the possibility to stand, incredibly overpriced tickets, increased control and harassment from the stewards, private security and police. Overall there is just one goal – profit. This football generates huge money, ads, TV rights, business plans, player sales, influence, power, corruption… It is a process in which football, a public commons, is handed to the private hands of the extremely rich, who control it and govern it in the “market logic” of capitalism. Football becomes more of a show, an entertainment industry, than something that would connect people and create social relationships. Most commonly, modern football is associated with the most prominent European leagues and international competitions highlighted by the Champions League, which involves incredible sums of money.”
Modern football represents a beautifully packaged, arranged, and shiny product, which is easy to sell. New stadiums – just for seating, big transfers, expensive tickets, ever-present control through camera and security systems, wealthy donors, ads, sponsors, unclear financing, and a shrinking connection between the club and fans – this is modern football. What is can be a better counterpart if not a club which plays its matches on a tiny stadium, a club which is democratically owned and governed by its fans, and a club which is not a commodity but a community?
Previously we have carried out a series of interviews and articles where we explored fan-owned clubs. Many of these clubs try to connect antifascism to social and anti-capitalist movements are a clear example that football doesn’t have to be controlled by the rich and powerful. They show us that we can create our own structures if we want to.
We held interviews with the clubs NK Zagreb 041, Quartograd, or FC Tarraco, and AKS Zly. But we don’t have to look to countries outside of Slovakia anymore.
The idea to found a democratic football club in Bratislava sprung up several years ago. The idea was to create not only a football club but also a community around it, one that will be built on democratic, inclusive, and self-governing ideals. This only began to take real shapes at the end of 2018, when the first open meetings started.
“I remember the first meeting very well. It took place on 11.12.2018 in a pub. I read online that there will be an informal meeting of people who would like to create a football club in Bratislava. This idea totally got me from the first moment, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine it. Still, the atmosphere and determination that was radiating from the people present were incredibly strong,” says Martin, a member of the coordinating group of FK Kozmos.
The first meeting was followed by others, which formed a group of people working on the preparations. Specific legal and formal conditions must be met to find a club. A myriad of logistical and practical challenges had to be solved.
“The next meetings gave it all more realistic outlines. Someone knew a physio in some village club, someone else knew a member of some regional FA. We all learned a lot of things from each other,” Martin states. He adds that they managed to found the club so fast they even surprised the local FA. Football community Kozmos was registered as an NGO in 2019, about half a year after the first open meeting.
Democratic and egalitarian
From the beginning, it was clear that this would not be just some football club. FK Kozmos takes a clear stance against modern commercial football and has a clear antifascist stance and hence a stance against racism, sexism, homophobia, or nationalism. FK Kozmos is also democratic and egalitarian. The club’s decisions are made by its members (fans) who can decide about everything.
“We don’t have traditional structures; we don’t have a traditional hierarchy. We don’t differentiate if you helped create the club or you just joined last week. Your vote is exactly the same. We also don’t force anyone into anything. If you don’t have time or can’t help at the moment, it’s not a problem. We are happy if you at least come to the match and leave with a good experience,” Martin explains. Kozmos is a member-run club. To become a member, one must agree with the club’s principles and pay a member’s fee – based on if and how their situation allows for it. One to two times a year, a general meeting of all members occurs, where the club’s main issues are decided on.
Moreover, smaller action groups exist in Kozmos, which are open to non-members. Action groups work on specific topics such as match and training preparation, fan activities, fundraising, or media work. The General Meeting also elects a coordinating committee, which oversees the club’s operations and coordinates the action groups’ work.
The men’s football team of FK Kozmos started meeting and playing in spring 2019, despite the early fears of a lack of people interested in playing football. Eventually, the club managed to attract almost 40 players. Many of them were looking for an opportunity to play football in Bratislava; others restarted their careers after playing and youth levels. Kozmos and its vision managed to attract many people. For Martin, the beautiful part was having a club he shares values with.
“I personally got involved because I love football. I was born in Bratislava, and I supported Slovan my whole childhood. The older I got, the further the club got away from me, until I stopped visiting Brickfield altogether (a common term for the stadium of Slovan Bratislava). I found some consolation in Petržálka (Artmedia Bratislava, known for its 5-0 defeat of Celtic and subsequent Champions league run), with whom I enjoyed a few beautiful experiences. They played in a fantastic stadium on Sunday morning. For several years they played the best and most attacking football in the league. I still consider what Kmotor (Ivan Kmotrík – a football sponsor and businessman, former owner of Artmedia and current owner of Slovan Bratislava) did to the club as absolutely doltish. He killed the club. As a double-tap, he destroyed its stadium, where no construction has begun to this date, despite his grand proclamations. Afterward, I totally gave up on Slovak football. And then this opportunity came up. Create your own club with your own values and fans that you can be proud of. I said to myself that I have to take part.”
Kozmos has, at the time of the writing this article, 92 members, including three foreign ones, and the average attendance in the canceled 19/20 season was 100 people. It showed that there are plenty of people who support the idea of democratic control of football and the antifascist and social statement of FK Kozmos.
Fans and community
Kozmos plays its home matches in Bratislava at Mladá Garda, a small stadium near a university campus, which is visited by a friendly, colorful, and exciting group of people. Families, musicians, DJs, various Bratislava personas, and male and female football fans who previously had no one to support in Bratislava. Thanks to them, Kozmos has active and loud support at home games and at away matches. Be they in Bratislava or in the surrounding towns and villages.
“We are trying to build an atmosphere at the matches. It’s long term work. The away days are fantastic. Kozmos fans can create such an atmosphere that home players and fans come to congratulate us,” Martin states, believing that they can build a broader and more active fan base. What helps is that they met with mostly positive reactions from players of other clubs, FA delegates, and referees. Kozmos is not an artificial club created through a significant financial injection. Therefore, it’s the best way to create a different kind of football.
The community is a key pillar, reflected in the name of FK Kozmos, and its development is one of the club’s priorities. It’s formed by members, players, fans, and all those who help out. In the long term perspective, Kozmos strives to be an ordinary football club and an example of a differently functioning society. The principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and democracy are cornerstones of the club.
Kozmos is the future
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clubs got into difficult situations. It was also a challenge for Kozmos. But they have one advantage: thanks to membership-based financing, their financial situation is stable, sustainable, and unlike clubs that focus on sponsoring, not at risk of bankruptcy.
After the restrictions were loosed over the summer and early autumn, Kozmos continued in its work, building the community, connecting members and fans with the club, and strengthening its structure. The female football squad was formed over the summer and started with regular trainings and attending tournaments. Furthermore, the club planned to include marginalized youth and create public practices, which unfortunately had to be put on hold with the second wave of COVID-19 in late September, early October 2020. According to Martin, this all follows a goal, “to bring more and new people to Garda, who will come have fun and enjoy football in a different way than they were used to – for high entry fees, with bad sausages, watered-down beer, and annoying music.”
As fans, we can only look back to our past experiences and memories during the ongoing pandemic, which is the best motivation for further activities on the stands and outside of them. Martin, just like the other fans of FK Kozmos, has it the same way.
“The best experience for me was, for sure, the first match. It was so strong because when the team was being put together in the pre-season, we lost every single match. Our expectations were, therefore, low. The B-team of Tomášov came to Mladá Garda, and we know they had a couple of players from the A-team, which plays three leagues above. More than 150 people came to the match, and we won 3:2. After the match we went to Cvernovka (a club and cultural center nearby) altogether –players, coaches and the fans it was wonderful. And also the last match of last year’s fall season. Who knows, knows… It was really hardcore.”
FK Kozmos is a clear example that we can manage and create not just football but also society based on our values – democracy, antifascism, and without capitalism. We do not need anyone else but ourselves and the strength to cooperate. We want to wish FK Kozmos many successful years and new fans because it’s true, what they sing in their favorite chant “Kozmos (takmer) najlepší! – “Kozmos is (almost) the best!”