Football can be a cold place. Wherein gluttony rules and morals are lost. Where decisions are made in the pursuit of wealth to satisfy an insatiable greed, often to the neglect of social responsibility.
Der Spiegel’s allegations — laying bare the plans for a Super League, while exposing Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain’s skirting of Financial Fair Play — highlight as much.
But there remains light among the darkness. Some clubs maintain that sport is a powerful vehicle for social change and remember to use their platform for good. To make a difference where it counts.
The Prague Raptors — a six-month-old club residing in the ninth tier of the Czech football pyramid — are one of those. A growing social media presence and professionally-run outfit, their voice belies their youth and stature.
“Our aim is to play attractive, high-pressing football while helping people less fortunate,” club president Daz Moss told the Sports Gazette. “The big thing is how we help these different communities. We’re trying to be as much of a community team as possible.”
Leeds-born Moss quickly established the club as a non-profit organisation, partnering with numerous local and global charities to provide monthly donations. The Raptors work with Fare Network to combat discrimination in football, as well as Brave Bear and Street Child — their training kit sponsor who benefit from 100% of the proceeds from training kit sales — to help children suffering from malnutrition and poverty.
Moss elaborated: “The aim of this club is never to make cash. Anything we do make we’re passing as much as we can of it across to the charities. We’re sending them a small amount of money each month, but we want to increase it because we admire what they’re doing.”
It’s frequently a case of views imposed almost dictatorially from the top down to ensure alignment of thought, but not at the Raptors. Moss’ benevolence is infectious. Everybody — players, coaches and management — shares his humanitarian outlook. In this sense, the club are refreshingly unique and foster a distinctive harmony in their approach. “The people at the club have a very similar mindset,” Moss added.
Head coach Jon Davies agreed: “We don’t just want to be a football team, we want to help people. We want to make people in Prague proud. Daz understands football’s off-pitch value and what we can give to the community to pay back the fruits of our success. With the Raptors, we’ve hit on that value. It makes us really proud.”
“It’s hard to change society, but if we can try something at our level we will,” men’s vice-captain Maxine Gardie explained. “The idea is to build a community because it’s not just about football. We are trying to help on a local level.”
Anna Osterthun, women’s captain, concurred: “I can’t sit around and do nothing when I know that somebody needs help.”
Football, though, is inescapably results driven. “Obviously we are a football club and results are the biggest thing. Nobody will be interested in us if we’re not winning,” Moss acknowledged. “But if we can do some good while we win games then all the better.”
While the men’s team battle for promotion, results aren’t absolute in their definition of the club. Equally as central in the club’s philosophy is their ethos, DESIRE: Diversity, education, social responsibility, innovation, respect and energy.
Created as a means of enshrining their passion for change, these values act as a constant reminder of the need to alter what they can. The scale is irrelevant, but the Raptors defy the limitations of their platform to make a resounding impression.
“I decided to create a set of values,” Moss said, “A lot of them are around diversity and a big one is respect. In our situation, it’s really key because we have a lot of people from different backgrounds. It’s about making sure the players respect each other.”
This particular value resonated on Gardie. “For me all those values can be summed up in one word: Respect. We have to respect everything. It’s important to me to play in a club with those values.
“I could see from the start that Daz didn’t just want to build a club to win titles, but a family, a community.”
It’s a family environment Moss has created. A place where foreigners in Prague can feel welcome. Comprised of 35 different nationalities, the Raptors stake a claim for being the most diverse club in Europe. They champion inclusivity and epitomise the ‘all for one, one for all’ mentality.
“You always know somebody has your back,” Osterthun said. “It feels like a family. Daz and Petra [Daz’s wife and club COO] take such good care of us. It’s amazing how much love they have for everybody.
“When my grandma died they sent me a flower bouquet with some nice words. It’s the small things that they do. It was just so nice of them. It just feels really good to be a part of it.”
Moss himself noted that the idea wasn’t to become a team of expats, but because of the language barrier and subsequent difficulties expats face in finding a Czech side, that’s what they became. “We have to acknowledge what we are and use that as an advantage and bring more people into the community,” he said.
In a world characterised by burgeoning insularity, this has the potential to be perceived negatively, something the Raptors learned for themselves in the men’s fixtures against TJ TONCA on November 3rd.
“Lots of people warned us that there’ll be some discrimination, but [that] weekend was the first time we’ve had a real issue. I was really disappointed. Nobody heard anything from the players, rather the supporters on the side. I think it’s going to happen more when we’re coming against our rivals,” Moss said.
“If we go through this process and it’s tough, we need to stand up for ourselves. If we manage to change one person’s mind per season on how they view foreigners then that’s a success. If we do more then even better.”
On the incident, Gardie added: “We knew it would happen from time to time and it’s reflective of society at the moment, but this is something we want to fight. Of course we do it at our level, but it is important to fight wherever we can. To do whatever we can to even slightly change the mentality.”
The club take it in their stride. It’s simply fuel for their fire to produce change.
To do so, though, the harmony must be spotless. Everyone sings from the same hymn sheet. But creating such coherency among a group composed of a variety of backgrounds is an arduous process that can, at times, become frustratingly difficult
“It’s not going to be plain-sailing to merge people together.” Davies explained from a footballing standpoint. “But ultimately it’s an advantage for us to have that experience. And it’s just nice.”
Just as Davies instils a philosophy of high-pressing on the pitch — one that requires a thorough understanding of your teammates’ movements for the unit’s functionality — the Raptors have to appreciate each other’s differences to engender cohesiveness off it.
“I’ve been trying to implement a pressing style,” Davies added, “while Daz came up with this movement. It’s come together. ‘Attack as one’ was born from that.” The Raptors’ motto, a distinctive identity reflective of their attitude both on and off the pitch.
Picture a raptor and the first thing that comes to mind is Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. In the 1993 classic, they’re depicted as pack animals; dinosaurs that have a telepathic understanding, hunting in unison. The similarities are striking.
“The idea actually came from my son Lukas,” Moss explained. “He was about five at the time and he said ‘why don’t we create our own team?’ We started playing around with names and because he’s a massive Jurassic Park fan, he suggested the Raptors.”
With everybody striving for the same goal, the possibilities are limitless and they harbour ambitions of reaching the Czech National League — the third tier — by 2028. That’s six promotions in ten years.
“We’re not putting a ceiling on where we want to get to because football is about dreaming,” Moss said. “We’ve had some people question our ambition saying it’s all a bit crazy, but my view is ‘why not?’ There’s nothing wrong with ambition.
“Our plan into every season is to win the league. We want to keep climbing as much as possible. You never know what the future holds.”
Wherever the Raptors end up, one thing is certain. They’ll use their platform to make a difference and touch countless lives. To create a familial environment wherein foreigners can feel at home. They understand what it means to be a football club, but they’re more than just that.
Featured photograph/Daz Moss