Socialist ideals see Republica stand out

Republica Internationale
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For some clubs, it is more than just about turning up every week and playing a match. As Danny Owen and Lee Sobot discovered, one Leeds-based club is keen to spread its political message as wide as possible.

With socialist ideals, globe-trotting tours and an unwavering commitment to diversity, Republica Internationale are not your archetypal Sunday League hopefuls.

Not many teams can claim to have won the Mondiali Antirazzisti – the Anti Racist World Cup – as lifted by Republica in Italy in 2006.

Yet as one of 22 clubs in Europe alone, they personify the Rebel Ultras association aiming to eradicate discrimination in all forms. Looking beyond the win-at-all-costs, machismo-infused aspect of football, the team are a fascinating tale of friendship and devotion.

From west Leeds to war-torn Palestine, the Leeds Sunday Alliance Premier side remain fully committed to fighting discrimination and advocating change. Oh, and winning a few football matches along the way.

But moreover, Republica’s socialist slant has unlocked a world of possibilities.

Allied with the Bradford-based 1in12 Club, Republica have branched out; beyond Yorkshire, beyond England and, eventually, beyond Europe.

While the men’s side hosted the Alternative World Cup in Rufforth in 2010, their female counterparts, who play in Division One of the West Riding County Women’s League, advocated “Freedom Through Football” in Palestine last year, scribing their maxim across the Israeli separation wall.

And back in 2001 several Republica players travelled to Mexico in support of the Zapatistas in Chiapas after the uprising of the people against the landowners. Quite the feat for a Sunday league side who only recently celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Claire Blue, who was part of the squad that travelled to the Middle East, said: “Palestine was amazing. It was an educational visit that created lots of strong bonds and lasting relationships.

“It’s in our constitution and our values that we believe everyone, regardless of race, gender and ability has the right to play so that’s why we support it.”

And Republica, whose shirts are adorned by the “White Ribbon Campaign”, an organisation aiming to end violence against women, have another busy year of globe-trotting lined up for 2015.

Club secretary Stuart Gibson explained: “Our network tournaments run every year.

“In July, we will be in Belgium for a tournament with clubs from Germany, Belgium, Poland and Lithuania along with a few English teams. Also, there will be an anti-racism tournament in Hamburg in May, a football v homophobia tournament in Nottingham and there are people from our network out in South America at the moment for a tournament in Sao Paulo.

“And we always have something on May Day, which is a big day for socialism, and both Yorkshire Sankt Pauli who do lots of work for Pafras (Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers) have been big helps with that. “The amazing thing is that there are other clubs out there doing a similar thing.

“It’s been quite a revelation and it’s really exciting because it can help us develop further.”

Understandably, the bread and butter of the domestic league provides a stark contrast to the exotic tastes of their continental jaunts.

But while sixth-placed Republica sit 14 points behind leaders Leeds YMCA, this season shows clear progress from 
2012-13, when they finished second-bottom with 16 defeats from 21 games.

Gibson added: “We haven’t played the top team (Leeds YMCA FC) at all and they’ve been putting 12 or 13 goals past teams. Generally, we don’t do too bad against title-chasing teams.

“I think we are about where we should be in the league.

“If we keep the squad together until the end of the season we could aim for a top-four finish, but I think we will be about sixth.” Either way, Republica are a team on the rise. With membership on the rise, support continues to grow. The club has the feel of a cult hero; an amateur league St Pauli, perhaps. Sharing socialist values and an incessant loathing of racism, the similarities with the left-leaning German side are unavoidable.

However, where one is the toast of the nation, the other is a relative unknown; an unearthed gem lying deep in the amateur league undergrowth.

But that’s not to say Republica haven’t had a profound affect on local fans. Yorkshire St Pauli, an official fan club of their German counterparts, are committed to following Republica’s example. Republica also recently explored the possibility of signing a number of transgender players despite potential FA sanctions. After all, at Republica, where players come and go, there is so much more to the club than football.

“There’s a transient element to the membership,” said Gibson.

“A lot of people join the club when they are at university and then leave after a few years.

“There is a new team being setting up in Middlesbrough – Norton George And Dragon – looking to fight some of the racist and homophobic tendencies that existed.

“I think it has the potential to be even bigger than Republica. Football isn’t necessarily the driving force behind what we do. It’s the politics and beliefs that drew us together in the first place.”

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