Gavin Ferguson in his CS Lebowski gear. Photograph: Chloe Beresford
Having played for his university side in Glasgow and for a Sunday League team in London, Ferguson was on the lookout for a club in Florence and CS Lebowski were his intended destination. Inspired by a friend who had read the teams remarkable story, Ferguson contacted CS Lebowski through their Facebook page.
He wasnt sure if they would respond but, incredibly, they invited him to come down to training. I was working for an English language school and I did not finish until 5.30pm, he says. The training started at 6pm and they said: Dont worry, well send someone to your work to pick you up. I could not believe it. One of the fans took time out of his own life to drive to my work and he had never met me before!
Lebowski told Ferguson they wanted to sign him, but the process was far from simple due to the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a certificate of residence, which is required to register for the league. The club found a solution once again, thanks to one of their members, a lawyer who worked for free to sort out the necessary paperwork.
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, says Ferguson. The cost would have been through the roof if I had to pay for it. Hes a top lawyer by the looks of his office. So theres 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 he is still working towards his first start for the club. Ive played entire friendlies but have only played 15 minutes of competitive football so far. Im just going to keep trying and doing my best, I never miss training. Hopefully Ill be in the team soon.
His lack of Italian can leave Ferguson struggling to understand his team-mates, but he has been given a real insight into the principles that attracted him to the club in the first place. They run really good social events. On the last or 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!
Their Christmas dinner party 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.
Ferguson has been struck by the genuine bond the team have with their fans, who recently turned up to show their support before the players set off for 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 didnt know what. 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. At this level, I cant stress enough how unusual this is.
The balance between how good the team are and how good the supporters are is huge, says Ferguson, who thinks the fans push the team on to greater success on the pitch. Its 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. The other teams arent used to playing in front of a crowd, but our team is. The last two times other teams have taken penalties against us, they have missed both of them. I think its something to do with the fact they are just not accustomed to being watched by this number of people and the noise they create.
Ferguson is full of anecdotes. He talks about the time the crazy manager gave a full hour of hairdryer treatment after the side lost Ferguson just sat there, not understanding a word of the rant. He has also noticed a kindness and warmth in his fellow players. There was a touching moment at the end of an away game 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.
This was just another example of Lebowskis community-based spirit. Indeed, recent examples of this altruistic work are best illustrated in the clubs creation of a local school of football, based on Barcelonas famed La Masia academy.
Undeterred by losing their bid to retain their home at San Donnino, fan-owned CS Lebowski continue their programme of inclusion. They welcome everyone who wants to watch the team, have opened a school of football and now have an English player among their number. His next step is earning a place in the starting XI.
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