Fighting for real football
Our photographer from Croatia is Ivana Smit, a founding member, photographer and former player of the women's section of NK Zagreb 041. The club plays in the 7th division of Croatian football and is governed by supporters with a clear stance against modern football - with a direct-democratic organizational model, and commitment to fighting corruption and discrimination. Ivana told us about the values and work of the club in the community and in Croatia.
Who is in the photos?
In the photos are footballers from FC Zagreb 041, supporters, fans, and also refugee children from Porin (a former hotel where many refugees in Croatia are placed) who are also playing football with the club.
The club was formally registered as a citizens association on February 19, 2015, and play in the 7th division. The club brings football back to the common people and supporters, and is the first genuine local community football club in Croatia, governed by supporters with a clear stance against modern football, and with a direct-democratic organizational model. The club fights corruption on all levels, as well as all kinds of discrimination. The message is that football is a sport of solidarity, sound competition, respect for the opponent, a sport we love because of its simplicity and beauty.
Since its founding FC Zagreb 041 has been very actively involved in helping refugees, asylum seekers and persons with granted asylum in Croatia. From direct help, through street actions up to football stands and stadiums, we try as much as we can to help people who have found themselves in very difficult situations through no fault of their own. We will continue to do this and we are very proud of our female and male members who give their best when it is necessary to show solidarity with people in trouble. The club is very proud of our three sections: seniors, women’s team and kids from the Porin hotel that is the accommodation for refugees in Zagreb.
Where were the photos taken?
Most of the photos are from the capital city of Croatia, Zagreb, and its surrounding suburbs. Most are from our home football ground Zelengaj, which is near Porin and makes it easy to have people join us from there.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
I wanted to show the pure beauty of football, how it can be a great sport without corruption, mafia and other negative aspects. I wanted to show how football connects all kinds of people from everywhere. Football is not only for men, football is not only about money, and you don't need big and expensive football fields to make people love it. A club doesn’t need to be big or popular. If it has heart and values like anti-homophobia, anti-racism, anti-fascism, and other anti-discrimination values, it will attract people who will give everything to show the club and football at his best.
You can see how many people come to a game of the lowest league in Croatia (and you can also see our wonderful 'stadium'), and the connection and love between our footballers and fans. The guy with the broken leg comes to every match, even if he is sick!
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
We have all become a big family. We go out together, we go to home and away matches together, we organise events, and we organize activities with kids. We also have a women’s football section - men go to their matches like they come to men’s matches. We are also connected with other football clubs in Europe, so sometimes we have guests from Germany, Slovakia, Greece and Czech Republic, and we visit them too.
We like to say that we are playing village football (some call it Sunday league football) and that we will bring football to people again! We have our youngest fan, born into this world on the day of our first match ever, and he is at almost every match. And we have some people who never watched football before but they started because of our club.
Why is football so important for Croatia and Croatian people?
Football is important for Croatia because people feel proud to be Croatian when we play well. After our independence, people needed something to be proud of and the Croatian football team was very successful back then. And I think that people forget their own problems (and we have a lot of problems in our country!), while they watch and cheer for their team. It plays a big role because all our kids play football when they are little and football is definitely the most popular sport in Croatia.
What does football mean to you?
I started to become interested in football when we formed this club and I also played for one year for our women’s section. I like the idea that football doesn’t need to be only about football, it can be about so many more things. Through football you can fight against things you don't like, you can help other people and you can be a part of something big with a purpose.
What is the future for Croatian football?
As you see from the 2018 World Cup, from time to time Croatia shines on the football stage, and that gives young people more motivation to play and train. So I think that our future is the same as the past and present - it is and still will be the main sport of the nation and a main topic in people conversations. It is funny though, because in the last 20 years our football association was very corrupt and poisoned. Many people complained about them, we even had protests against them, but still everyone enjoys playing and watching football.