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Supporters' groups in continental Europe are generally known as Ultras which derives from the Latin word ultrā, meaning beyond in English, with the implication that their enthusiasm is 'beyond' the normal. In English speaking nations, these groups are generally known as "supporters' groups". Most groups in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia call themselves "supporters' groups", however some do self identify as ultras, particularly in communities with large Spanish, French or Italian speaking populations. In Brazil, the organized torcida plays a similar role and in Mexico both the terms barras and porras are used. Groups in South America are called either Barra Brava, Hinchada, Torcida or Fanaticada.
Supporters' groups and ultras are renowned for their fanatical vocal support in large groups, defiance of the authorities and the display of banners at stadiums, which are used to create an atmosphere which intimidates opposing players and supporters, as well as encouraging their own team.
Supporters' 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. Supporters' groups tend to use various styles and sizes of banners and flags with the name and symbols of the group. Some supporters' groups sell their own merchandise such as scarves, hats and jackets. The culture is a mix of several supporting styles, such as scarf-waving and chanting. A supporters group can number from a handful of fans to hundreds, and often claim entire sections of a stadium for themselves.
- 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
Supporters' 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 have criticised these types of favoured relationship. Some spectators criticise supporters groups for never sitting during matches and for displaying banners and flags, which hinder the view of those sitting behind.
During matches of significant importance, many supporters' groups choreograph a large overhead display that is 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. Such a display is called a mosaic or card display. Other materials used in certain types of displays include balloons, streamers, huge banners, flares, smoke bombs, and some times giant dolls. Popular culture icons are often used on banners. Corporate brand logos and catchphrases are also often used. The displays, which can be expensive to make, often take months to prepare. All of the supporter-provided overhead displays, two-poles, banners, etc. are called tifo.
Unlike hooligan firms, whose main aim is to fight fans of other clubs, the main focus of supporters' groups 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. In contrast, supporters' groups 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. Although supporters' groups can become violent, the vast majority of matches go ahead with no violent incidents. In the United States the sport has been traditionally viewed as a family-friendly event, and hooliganism among supporters groups is virtually unheard of.
There are also a number of English supporters' groups located in Australia for premiership teams and championship teams. The Hornets Down Under are an example of a championship supporters' group.
In Latin America supporter groups are usually called barra bravas. Similar to the European ultras, the phenomenon originated in Argentina in the 1950s, but it has spread throughout the Americas in the '90s.
The groups wield enormous power and influence over football in their respective states, especially in Argentina where there are the largest and strongest organized supporter groups in the world.
The exception is Brazil, where the clubs have active supporter groups named Torcida Organizada, who play a similar role to the barra bravas. However, the southern part of Brazil, in the south part of Santa Catarina and in all Rio Grande do Sul, contrary to the rest of the country the supporter groups are barra bravas. In turn, in Mexico both the terms barras and porras are used.
Official supporter groups primary function is to liaise with the club board and protects supporter interest as well as have a say in the running of the clubs, and they usually represent all types of supporters of all ages ranging from fanatical supporters, to disabled supporters, to supporters who rarely frequent games, however they are still an independent body.
Ultras groups are independent of the club however they too are frequently supported by the club as they cater to the majority of the most vocal and committed supporters, producing atmosphere and encouraging the players. However, frequent tensions also arise, due to often vocal and pro-active criticism of management or players and the illegality of some their actions, such as graffiti and lighting pyrotechnics during matches. Many ultras groups in order to maintain their independence and raise money, run their own shops selling supporter merchandise, most commonly clothing, supporter scarves, and sometimes in collaboration with the club match tickets.
Hooligan firms are largely restricted to a secretive sub-culture, due to the illegal nature of their activity. Hooligans mostly socialise and interact with other hooligans, and therefore have little contact with other sets of supporters.
In the past, the distinction between ultras and hooligans was blurred, with the majority being considered both. Due to the increase in condemnation and punishment of hooligan activity, the divide has become increasingly visible, however for some groups, especially groups who support smaller teams and therefore have less members, this divide is still very much blurred; some groups have started using the label hooltras.
Most supporters' groups are officially endorsed by the affiliated club (for example, the Middlesbrough Official Supporters Club is recognized on the club's website and holds meetings at the stadium). Nearly all official supporter groups are affiliated with the Football Supporters' Federation.
Other examples of supporters' groups include Supporters Direct, Portsmouth Supporters' Club, Evertonians, Wigan Athletic Supporters, Watford Supporters Trust, Manchester City Official Supporters' Club and the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association.
United States and Canada
There are independent supporters' groups for all Major League Soccer which operates in the United States and Canada as well as for many teams of the lower divisions of the United States soccer pyramid. Supporter culture in the United States, like the United States itself, has elements from many different countries including England, Italy, Argentina, Germany and many others. Major League Soccer holds an annual "Supporters' Summit" to meet with the leadership of most of its supporter groups to discuss issues including: security, self-policing, supporter group managed sections, and strategies for league success. Many teams in other leagues including the National Premier Soccer League, USL Pro, USL Premier Development League, and North American Soccer League (2010) have associated supporters' groups. Supporters' groups can be found for some NCAA soccer programs such as Legion 1818 at Saint Louis University, Englemann Elite at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee or the Red Cedar Rowdies, influenced by Detroit City FC's Northern Guard Supporters, at Michigan State University.
The Independent Supporters Council (I.S.C.) was formed to unite all supporter groups in North America. Any group of supporters that endorse the I.S.C. Charter and Supporters’ Bill of Rights  may apply for membership. The I.S.C. has taken a lead role in the administration of the Supporters' Shield.
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