Date: 2019 / League: regional leagues (equivalent of 7th tier)
Final Score: unknown / Attendance: approx. 150
In A Nutshell
Marketing themselves as Poland’s ‘first democratic football club’, Zly have become a phenomenon, a point not lost on UEFA – in 2019, they were recognized as being Europe’s “best grassroots club”. By far the most socially conscious club that there is in Poland, you visit for a completely unique experience that places a firm emphasis on community values.
Zly were founded in 2016 by a bunch of mates fed up with the commercial direction of the global game and the thuggish atmosphere in the domestic stadiums. Built on principles of tolerance and openness, the composition of the team says much: from warehousemen to lawyers and pianists, it’s truly a mixed bag of professions and nationalities that turn out for the side.
And they’re bloody good, as well. Managed by ‘Toto’, an Israeli-Arab of Christian faith, free-flowing football and high-scoring games are pretty much the law.
Hail, the Don Pedro Arena. Consisting of one stripe of colourful seating running the length of the pitch, it’s framed by a phalanx of trees on the other side, a modern community centre and a derelict redbrick warehouse that totters and glowers over the pitch. Offsetting this beast is the beauty of an ornate Neo-Classical basilica that rises above the trees and over the bank of seats.
It’s like no other in Poland – now for the life of me I can’t remember which game I photographed here (I’ve been to a few games and they’ve blurred into one), but for certain it would have been loud and entertaining.
Though crowds usually peak at 300 or so, their vocal backing is staunch, and helpfully abetted by the song sheets handed out prior to each match as well as the persistent banging of an enthusiastic drummer.
Diverse in the extreme, the crowd flies in the extreme of football stereotypes. Women are prominent (about 40% of the crowd estimates one of the co-founders) and it’s not unexpected to find pensioners and professors mingling with tattooed artsy types, pram-pushing dads, cool-looking students or curious expats from a wealth of nations – everyone is welcome.
On the refreshment front, chomp on vegan snacks while glugging Fritz Cola.
Know Before You Go
Zly are the friendliest club you’ll likely ever come across, but that does not mean they’re universally adored. Perceived as being ‘lefty’ by many Polish fans, games against clubs associated with Legia Warsaw (for instance, Okecie or Targowek) will naturally attract a more volatile atmosphere – matches like that, though, are very much the exception.
It’s gritty and working class, and whilst not overtly dangerous you might feel uncomfortable walking around outside hauling expensive camera gear around. But further out – and more towards the river – the Praga district of Warsaw is starting to offer a heady tonic of rehabilitated pre-war architecture that organically mixes with its leftfield vibe. It’s more Berlin than Berlin, and you get a specific sense of that in Offside, a bar on Brzeska street frequented by the team’s fans.
Sat opposite a mural of a giant goose, this wreck announces its intention from the off with a piece of graffiti over the bar declaring that, “this is not a f***ing cocktail bar”. Despite the somewhat threatening slogan, it’s a place of amiable anarchy and warm camaraderie.
Among other things, explore the area for the hi-tech Vodka Museum in the fancy mixed-use Koneser development; its famed courtyard shrines; it’s shadowy bars; and huge, XL murals.