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Barra brava (fierce gang) is a denomination for violent organized supporter groups of football fans that support teams in many countries of Latin America and commit hooliganism. Their style of supporting is similar to European ultras and hooligan firms. It includes standing throughout the match, singing and other enthusiastic behavior like waving of flags. The phenomenon originated in Argentina in 1950s and it has spread throughout the Americas in the following decades. In Brazil, torcidas organizadas plays a similar role (although since last years appeared Brazilian barras bravas) and, in Mexico, exists similar groups that are called porras, but in the last years also appeared many others that identifies themselves as barras bravas (influenced by Argentine groups).
During the 1920s, in crowds of Argentine teams spontaneously began to emerge groups of fans that stood out from the rest of supporters for their fervour. Media called them barras, term that in Argentina and Uruguay is used in a similar way to the term gang, but in it original meaning (without relation to crime), that is simply a informal group of people who meet regularly (for example, a group of friends that meet regularly can be named as a barra). One of those groups was La barra de la goma ("The barra of the rubber"), formed in 1927 and supporter of San Lorenzo de Almagro. It was called with that name because, during home matches, it members had used the rubber of bike wheels (filled with sand and tied at the ends with wire) to attack rival fans that, in some matches, launched some objects to the goalkeeper for bother him when he should intervene in the game.
The action of this groups was limited to stadiums during home matches, and they not organized themselves to go when the team played away neither they were intended to provoke violence, as it arose spontaneously usually during games that were resulting difficult for their team, as a way to influence the score through intimidation of rival players and referees with insults and launch of blunt objects, although occasionally they used to invade the pitch and came to resort to hits. Also they intimidated rival fans that tried to bother players of their team with similar methods. Because of this behaviour, at the end of the same decade, some newspapers described this groups as "brave" (in Spanish, this word also it is synonymous with fierce), appearing for first the conjunction barras bravas, but not used yet as a denomination.
This barras became a traditional part of Argentine football crowds, and grew and evolved until, in mid-1950s, started to have financing from football club's leaderships for go to away matches, and one of it goals became preparation for provoking violence against rival players and fans, or repel police repression and attacks that could receive from rival supporters (also defending the rest of the crowd and even players). Then was that this groups became into the first violent organized supporter groups in the world related to football.
Argentine journalist Amílcar Romero explains that, before appearance of this groups, when a team played away, was intimidated by rival fans (something that still happening). This motivated the organization of barras bravas as a response to this pressure. In this way, each club began to have its own barra brava, which were financed by club's leaderships. To these groups were given tickets and paid travel to the stadiums, adding after other forms of financing. But access to these benefits by the member of the barra brava depended on the hierarchy that had within it (this groups have a hierarchical structure), and for obtain prestige, the member had to be violent.
In Argentine football it was institutionalized that, if you played away, you were pressured inexorably. Although it was not about barras bravas as we know them today. Home fans pressured you and, police, if was not watching to another place, also pressured you. That had to be compensated with a theory that in the next decade (1950s) was rife: to every operating group with a mystical ability to produce violence, the only way to counter it is with another minority group, with as much or more mystique to produce violence.— Amílcar Romero.
In 1958, media and society notes existence of this groups after riots during a match between Vélez Sarsfield and River Plate (at José Amalfitani stadium) that left a dead named Alberto Mario Linker, 19 years old, who died due to police repression (was hit in the chest by a tear gas grenada) when cops tried to disperse River Plate fans that were causing unrest. Newspaper La Razón denominated River Plate's organized supporter group as a barra fuerte (strong gang), differentiating them for the first time with the already traditional barras appeared in the 1920s.
This groups display and wave flags (that in Argentine football slang are called trapos -cloths-) and umbrellas (with team's colours), and use different musical instruments (many bass drums and, since mid-2000s in Argentina, also some trumpets) that accompany their chants. They occupy terraces that lack seats and where viewers must watch the game standing. In all-seater stadiums (that does not exist in Argentina and many other Latin American countries), barras bravas (and many other supporters) also watch the match standing.
Although it have different flags, the most characteristics of this groups are those shaped like giant strips of several meters in length (called trapos largos -long flags- or tirantes -suspenders-), that are deployed from the top of the terrace to the bottom among the public, because the rest of supporters don't have this kind of flags. Barras bravas usually also have some flag with the name of the group.
Traditionally, many members of the group watch the game standing upon the metal crush barriers (called paravalanchas -avalanche-stoppers- in Argentine slang) that are placed in terraces to prevent crushing, with many of this barriers with several supporters above it. To don't fall, they are fastened to a "suspender" with one or both hands (this was the purpose to make this flags shaped like strips), or to the body of some supporter that is fastened to this kind of flag, or even sometimes, some supporter that is standing below (in a step), hold to another that is upon the barrier.
They always command the team's crowd, starting and coordinating every chant (that usually are created by them, using popular music rhythms and changing its lyrics) and displaying and waving most part of flags, and possesing the most important and big ones. Like a symbol of their importance into the crowd, barras bravas always are located in the center of the terrace that occupy. Before that the group enters to the terrace (usually some minutes before that players enters to the pitch for starting of the match), it's usual that the center of it is left empty by the rest of supporters (even if the terrace it is almost full), like showing respect to the place of the barra brava.
At the beginning, this groups were not very numerous nor excessively violent, but over the years, continued growing and obtaining more power within clubs, to the point of exist some Argentine barras bravas that sometimes have decided who would be club's chairman or forced to resign to leadership members. Since the 1980s and especially 1990s, besides provoking hooliganism, started to engage in illegal activities in order to obtain an economic return (which it is controlled only by important members of the barra brava), such as extortion to leadership members, players and hawkers that work at the stadium and surroundings during match days (that have to give a portion of their profits in exchange for being allowed to work and get protection, for example, from robbery), drug sale, thefts, etc., in addition to the illegal activities that many members can does individually. They also often provide services to political and union leaders that hire them as agitator groups (during rallies and mass meetings, that in Argentina traditionally have people chanting like football crowds, playing drums and even shooting firecrackers in some moments), goon squads (against possible clashes with supporters of other political parties, unions or police during demonstrations, protests, rallies and strikes), bodyguards, etc.
They are also funded by club's leaderships, which sometimes give salaries to some of its members or even percentage of the profits from sales of players. Usually also are some of the responsible for security when the stadium (or any facility) of their club hosts events alien to football, like concerts or political rallies, mainly to avoid damage to the club.
In Argentina, their handling money grew at point that, currently, is one of the main goals of barras bravas from important clubs or, at least, relatively popular. Because of this, since the 2000s they began producing increasingly internal problems in this organized groups, having been violent disputes among some of its members for control of the group and, therefore, their illicit business. As a result, a large percentage of deaths related to football since been were related to internal disputes within barras bravas.
The size of the organized supporter group is generally correlated to the level of popularity of the club to which it belongs (is larger the higher the fanbase). However, some clubs have big organized supporter groups although being not very popular, sometimes even in it city. This is usually occurs when the club has, at least, a relatively high popularity in it neighborhood and surroundings, especially if it is a very populated area and with a population mostly belonging to the lower social classes. Similarly, some clubs that have a high popularity only regionally, have barras bravas of similar size as clubs that have a high popularity in the whole country.
In the first years of existence of these groups in Argentina, were formed only by a few dozen people, which was increasing with time so that, currently, while there are groups that have little more than a dozen members (those belonging to clubs with a very small fanbase), others can exceed (by a few hundreds) a thousand of it (this only in the countries of Latin America where the phenomenon is more widespread), which is usually the aproximate limit on size because, otherwise, leader's control over the group will be very difficult (increasing the possibility of internal problems occur). Also exist clubs that don't have organized supporter groups (between Argentine clubs, are those that often have a very small fanbase).
In Argentina there are the most dangerous organized supporter groups in the world, some of them giving their members incentives such as reduced ticket prices and free food and drink at games for both themselves and their friends.
There have been 301 hooligan related deaths in the history of Argentine football up to August 2012. Several recent deaths and shootings are the result of rival factions within the same clubs.
Barras bravas are also common in many other South American countries, such as Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Colombia. The Latin American influence of barra bravas have led to supporter groups being established in other parts of the world, most notably the United States where the supporter culture and interest in association football is largely dominated by the U.S. Latino minority.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ultras.|
- "La Barra Brava: Why US football fans chant in Spanish - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
- "Las barras aparecen con la industrialización del fútbol" [Barras appears with industrialization of football]. Página/12. July 13, 2003.
- Magallón, Enrique López (October 10, 2007). "Los hooligans más peligrosos del mundo están en Argentina" [The most dangerous hooligans of the world are in Argentina]. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
- User, Super. "About Us". www.barra-brava.com. Retrieved 2016-05-07.