Ultras

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Ultras are a type of sports fans renowned for their fanatical support and elaborate displays. They are predominantly European followers of football teams. The behavioral tendency of ultras groups includes the use of flares (primarily in tifo choreography), vocal support in large groups and the displaying of banners at football stadiums, all of which are designed to create an atmosphere which encourages their own team and intimidates opposing players and supporters.

The actions of ultras groups can occasionally be overly extreme and are sometimes influenced by political ideologies or racism, in some instances to the point where the central ideology of the ultras phenomenon, passionate and loyal support of your team, becomes a sideshow. In recent decades, the culture has become a focal point for the movement against the commercialization of sports and football in particular. The term, also used of extremists in other fields, is derived from the Latin ultrā, meaning beyond, with the implication that their enthusiasm is 'beyond' the normal.[1]

History[edit]

The origin of the ultras movement is disputed, with many groups from various countries making claims on the basis of their dates of foundation. The level of dispute and confusion is aided by a contemporary tendency (mainly in Europe) to categorize all groups of overtly fanatical supporters as ultras. Supporters groups of a nature comparable to the ultras have been present in Hungary since 1929. The Ferencváros's Fradi-szív was founded in January 1929. The team supporters were invited in a small rented office near Jozsef yard, it was announced that it would have been possible register as a supporter member or as simple member from next wednesday, in the same office at ten o clock. In three hours were registered 84 new members as supporters, after two days the number increased to over 1000 registered supporters, after a month the registered supporters were around 4000. The members, depending on the type of subscription, paid a different monthly fee. After a day or two, everyone received a membership card, a white card for the simple members, a green card for the supporter members.There was a name on the card but no photo. The members of group were allowed : forming a part of the B stand fans, get a badge that they had to wear over his heart.[2][3] Supporters groups of a nature comparable to the ultras were also present in Brazil since 1939, when the first torcida organizada was formed. Inspired by the torcidas and the colorful scenes of the 1950 World Cup, supporters of Hajduk Split formed Torcida Split on 28 October 1950. The group is often cited as the oldest ultras/torcida style group in Europe.

The country most associated with the ultras movement is Italy. The first Italian ultras groups were formed in 1951, including the Fedelissimi Granata of Torino. The 1960s saw the continuing spread and development of the culture with the formation of the Fossa dei Leoni and Boys San groups, the former often regarded in Italy as the first full-fledged ultras group. The term Ultras was used as a name for the first time in 1969 when supporters of Sampdoria formed the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni and fans of Torino formed the Ultras Granata. The style of support that would become synonymous with Italian football developed most during the 1970s as more groups formed and the active support of the ultras became more apparent, in contrast with the "traditional" culture. Choreographic displays, signature banners and symbols, giant flags, drums and fireworks became the norm as groups aimed to take their support to higher levels. The decade also saw the violence and unrest of Italian society at the time overlap with the ultras movement, adding a dimension that has plagued it ever since.

The ultras movement spread across Europe during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, starting with the countries geographically closest to Italy. The effects on the footballing cultures of the countries involved were more profound in some and less in others, as a certain level of organization amongst fans and/or a tradition of colorful support would have long been present in many countries. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, three countries whose footballing cultures were more influenced by British football in the past, experienced significant change. English football is a rare example of a footballing culture in Europe which hasn't been heavily influenced by the ultras movement.

Characteristics[edit]

Ultra groups are usually based around a core group (who tend to have executive control over the whole group), with smaller subgroups organized by location, friendship or political stance. Ultras tend to use various styles and sizes of banners and flags with the name and symbols of the group. Some ultra groups sell their own merchandise such as scarves, hats and jackets. The ultra culture is a mix of several supporting styles, such as scarf-waving and chanting. An ultra group can number from a handful of fans to hundreds, and often claim entire sections of a stadium for themselves.

The four core points of the ultra mentality[4] are:

  • never stop singing or chanting during a match, no matter what the result
  • never sit down during a match
  • attend as many games as possible (home and away), regardless of cost or distance
  • loyalty to the stand in which the group is located (also known as the Curva or Kop).

Ultra groups usually have a representative who liaises with the club owners on a regular basis, mostly regarding tickets, seat allocations and storage facilities. Some clubs provide the groups cheaper tickets, storage rooms for flags and banners, and early access to the stadium before matches in order to prepare the displays. Some non-ultras have criticized these types of favoured relationship. Some spectators criticize ultras for never sitting during matches and for displaying banners and flags, which hinder the view of those sitting behind. Others criticize ultras for physical assaults or intimidation of non-ultra fans.

Match day[edit]

Varvari tifo at a Montenegrin First League home match

Before big matches, most ultra groups choreograph a large display, (sometimes known as Tifo) for when the teams enter. Ranging in size, based on financial capabilities of the group, the tifo has been displayed just in the section of the stadium where the group is located or the entire stadium. Sometimes small sheets of plastic or paper are held aloft to form a pattern or to colour the stadium. Other materials used include balloons, streamers, huge banners, flares, smoke bombs, and more recently, giant dolls (as used by Sampdoria's ultras in 2002). Popular culture icons are often used on banners, such as Alex DeLarge (from the movie A Clockwork Orange), bulldogs, or Che Guevara.Corporate brand logos and catchphrases are also often used. The displays, which can be expensive to make, often take months to prepare.

Generally, ultra' groups, particularly in Italy, have animosity toward so-called modern football, which refers to all-seater stadiums, more expensive tickets, matches being played at non-traditional times (particularly evening matches), players being bought and sold like merchandise, and the excessive commercialization of football in general. Banners stating "Contro Il Calcio Moderno" (Against modern football) or simply "No Al Calcio Moderno" (No to modern football) are commonly seen in Italian stadiums, and have also appeared in other parts of Europe. A common English language equivalent, seen on banners and flags in stadiums across the United Kingdom, is the phrase "Love Football, Hate Business".

Ultra groups tend to be highly vocal at matches, with each group having several football chants. The melodies are mostly taken from popular songs, such as "Guantanamera" and "7 Nation Army". Other popular songs, sung in their entirety include "Bella Ciao" and "ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards)". In most cases, a group leader, often using a megaphone, coordinates the various activities of the entire group, including chants, songs, and banner drops. Fanzines and websites play a big part in the ultra movement. As printing costs decrease and publishing software improves, fanzines have become increasingly more professional-looking.

Hooliganism[edit]

Although ultra groups can become violent, the vast majority of matches go ahead with no violent incidents. Unlike hooligan firms, whose main aim is to fight fans of other clubs, the main focus of ultras is to support their own team. Hooligans usually try to be inconspicuous when they travel; usually not wearing team colours, in order to avoid detection by the police. Ultras tend to be more conspicuous when they travel and like to arrive en masse, which allows the police to keep a close eye on their movements. When trouble involving ultras does break out, it usually takes the form of a political riot similar to the ones in Italy in the 1970s when the Carabinieri used the same tactics with the ultras as they did with the political activists.

However, there does appear to be a crossover in some countries between ultras and hooligans. In Italy, when English club Middlesbrough F.C. played a match against AS Roma in March 2006, three Middlesbrough fans were stabbed in an attack that was blamed on Roma-supporting ultras.[5] Roma-supporting ultras were also blamed for an incident related to the club's match against English club Manchester United in Rome in April 2007, which resulted in 11 Manchester fans and two Italian fans being taken to hospital.[6] These specific incidents may be attributed to an anti-English mindset amongst some Roma fans that dates back to the 1984 European Cup final. Spanish authorities have been concerned about ultra-related violence against supporters of other clubs, such as the murder of a Real Sociedad fan, by the Atlético Madrid ultras Frente Atlético.

Politics[edit]

Napoli ultras holding banners aloft, protesting about the authorities' reaction to the death of a fan from a rival club.

Though mostly apolitical, ultras groups are sometimes associated with politics, right-wing and left-wing. Issues such as racism, anti-racism, nationalism or anti-capitalism are present. Additionally, one growing movement within ultra groups that transcends traditional leftright politics is the resistance to the commercialization of football. In Italy this movement is called No al Calcio Moderno, which translates as "No to modern football"; it spread also to other countries. In some cases, fans have split from the original team and formed their own teams, such as Manchester United F.C. to F.C. United of Manchester, Wimbledon F.C.(now Milton Keynes Dons F.C.) to AFC Wimbledon and FC Red Bull Salzburg to SV Austria Salzburg.

Nationalism and regionalism are a common views shared by various ultras groups, especially in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. Ultras often display flags and sing songs showing their connection to the region and/or nation. Ethnic nationalism is widespread especially among ultras in the Balkans, where football fans helped to mobilize national sentiments during the Yugoslav Wars. In Serbia the fans of Red Star Belgrade (Delije) or Croatian fans of NK Dinamo Zagreb (Bad Blue Boys) are notable in this respect. Regionalist pride is evident in various ultras groups across the Central-Eastern Europe. Supporters [7] of Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta FC always display Greek flags and sing songs proudly showing their Greek nationality. Fans of Polish clubs from Silesia (GKS Katowice, Ruch Chorzów, Polonia Bytom, Górnik Zabrze) proudly display their bond with the region. Same applies for clubs from Czech Republic, PragueAC Sparta Prague and Czech SilesiaFC Baník Ostrava and SFC Opava. Cross-country friendships are formed among fans from culturally similar countries. Red Star Belgrade has a friendship with Olympiacos F.C., Partizan Belgrade with PAOK Thessaloniki. They often display banners and flags with "Pravoslavna Braća (Orthodox Brothers)" inscriptions, showing their common religious denomination. In Silesia, friendship between Czech FC Baník Ostrava and Polish GKS Katowice exists. Nationalism of ultras groups however sometimes escalates to the point of racist remarks. In Poland, a common way to humiliate fans of the opposing team is to call them "Jews". Songs and banners with anti-Semitic themes are common. In May 2010, ultras of Resovia Rzeszów displayed a transparent, reading "Death to crooked noses" and a picture of Jew with yarmulka.[8] Players contribute sometimes to ignite these feelings. In 2008, ŁKS Łódź player Arkadiusz Mysona was banned from play for six months for wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Jewish slogan.[9]

Some ultra groups—such as Livorno's Brigate Autonome Livornesi, NK Zagreb's Bijeli anđeli, Benfica's No Name Boys, A.C. Arezzo's Fossa, Pisa Calcio's Ultras, Olympique de Marseilles Curva-Massilia, St.Pauli's Ultrà Sankt Pauli Hapoel Tel-Aviv's Ultras Hapoel, FC Barcelona's Almogàvers, Fenerbahce's Vamosbien, Atalanta Bergamo's "Brigate Neroazzure", AEK Athens's Original 21, Omonia Nicosia's Gate 9, Sevilla FC's Biris Norte, KRC Genk's Drughi's, F.C. Copenhagen 's Rude Lions and Standard Liège's Ultras Inferno 96—are known for displaying flags with red stars, hammer and sickles, the anarchy symbols, images of Che Guevara or various anti-fascist iconography. In Turkey, Beşiktaş JK's ultra group Çarşı, which is known for left-wing views, has an A in its logo that is similar to the anarchy symbol. Fans of Ajax Amsterdam often display the Star of David and Israeli flags, and regularly chant "Joden! Joden!" (Dutch for "Jews! Jews!") in reference to the club's Jewish roots. The annual Mondiali Antirazzisti (Anti-Racist World Cup) attracts more than 6,000 people, and is the largest gathering of anti-fascist Ultras in the world.[10]

There are also many politically right-wing ultras such as Lazio's Irriducibili, Dynamo Kyiv's White Boys Club, Inter's Boys San, Karpaty's Banderstadt Ultras, APOEL's AU79, Real Madrid's Ultras Sur, Valencia cf 's Yomus, Hellas Verona's Brigate Gialloblu, Real Betis Balompie's Supporters Sur, Sporting's Juventude Leonina, Espanyol's, Brigadas Blanquiazules, FC Steaua Bucureşti's Peluza Nord and Peluza Sud, FC Dinamo Bucureşti's PCH (Peluza Catalin Hildan), PFC CSKA Sofia's "CSKA SS Front", PFC Levski Sofia's "Sofia West", Lokomotiv Plovdiv's "Gott mit uns", Beitar Jerusalem's "La Familia"and Anorthosis Famagusta FC's Ultras Famagusta. Paris St Germain are known to have both right-wing and left-wing ultras.[citation needed]

Rivalries[edit]

Fierce rivalries between ultra groups can be found all over the world, although most of the larger rivalries are found in Europe. The rivalries are often based around a basic animosity toward the rival team, mostly in derbies, and some rivalries are partly based on politics (E.G Livorno vs Lazio and Celtic vs Rangers). There have also been rivalries between ultra groups that support the same team; based on personal and/or leadership disputes. Sometimes ultra groups try to capture banners and flags of rival groups. Losing a banner or flag to a rival group is considered a big humiliation, and the faction losing the banner is required to disband. The most common rivalries are the political ones.

In the book How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer describes the rivalry between Serb and Croat teams as, "The new, or rather old, enmity could be seen visibly at the soccer stadium... fans sang about their respective slaughters."[11] The ultras of FC Red Star Belgrade, the Delije (Heroes) formed the base of Arkan's Tigers, a Serbian paramilitary force who were later implicated in multiple acts of terror during the Wars in Yugoslavia. The Tigers made a dramatic appearance during the Belgrade derby game of 22 March 1992 between Red Star and Partizan; they held up road signs saying: '20 miles to Vukovar'; '10 miles to Vukovar'; 'Welcome to Vukovar'. More signs followed, each named for a Croatian town that had fallen to the Serbian army. Arkan was then director of the Red Star supporters' association.[12] In later matches, after Serbian army retreated from occupied Vukovar, Croatian fans would regularly display signs honoring Vukovar (sometimes spelt Vukowar) and chant: "Vukovar! Vukovar!". When Bosnia-Herzegovina played a friendly game against Croatia in August 2007, Croatian fans formed a human U symbol, representing the fascist Ustase movement responsible for mass killings of Serbs, Jews and Roma people during World War II and Bosnian people during Yugoslav war. This was during a time of rising ethnic tensions in Bosnia between Croats and Bosnians.[13] In the Netherlands, during 'de Klassieker' between Feyenoord and AFC Ajax anti-Jewish songs are regular.

Footnotes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Prof. Dr. Gunter A. Pilz: International Conference on Ultras. Overview of the Ultra culture phenomenon in the Council of Europe member states in 2009 PDF (195 KB) Leibniz University Hanover, 18 January 2010.
  • Testa, A. and Armstrong, G. (2008). "Words and actions: Italian ultras and neo-fascism" Social Identities, vol. 14 (4), pp. 473 – 490
  • Testa, A. (2009) "UltraS: an Emerging Social Movement", Review of European Studies, vol. 1 (2), 54-63
  • Testa, A. (2010). Contested Meanings: the Italian Media and the UltraS. Review of European Studies, vol 2(1), 15-24
  • Testa, A. and Armstrong, G. (in press; November 2010). Football, Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football, A&C (Bloomsbury), London, Black Publishers.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]