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Supporters' groups or supporters' clubs are independent fan clubs or campaign groups in association football, mostly association football.
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 organised 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 organised 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 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, 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.
The main supporter group of the Australia national soccer team is Socceroos Active Support (SAS). SAS was founded in January 2015 as an independent group, who uses social media to organise and keep in touch. This replaced the former active support group Terrace Australis, who were founded by the FFA and fans in 2013, during Australia's 2014 World Cup qualification campaign. Its establishment came in the wake of poor off-field action and minimal community engagement. Previously, the emergence of Terrace Australis saw the Green and Gold Army relinquish its role as a hub for active support, which it had claimed since its establishment in 2001.
The official South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter group is known as "The Burrow." While their active supporter group is known as "Gate38" which is made up of young men who were involved in the "scumgate" scandal in 2013. The Rabbitohs also have a large supporter base in Perth, where they rival the Fremantle Dockers in supporter size.
The Brisbane Broncos have the largest fan base of any NRL club and they have been voted the most popular rugby league team in Australia for several years. A Broncos supporters group called "The Thoroughbreds" which is made up of prominent businessmen, made an unsuccessful bid to purchase News Ltd's controlling share of the club in 2007.
The Bulldogs Army is the core support group for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, with the section they sit within known as 'The Kennel'. To be sitting in this section, supporters must become a member of the club itself and register any large flags and/or banners which are brought to the game. At all away games the Bulldogs Army locates themselves in the general admission section. The main aim of the Bulldogs Army is to show support and passion for the Bulldogs.
As the region's traditional local representatives, the Bulldogs predominantly draw on a support base in and around the suburbs of Canterbury and Bankstown in south-western Sydney, although in recent years club administration and home matches have relocated to Sydney Olympic Park. The Bulldogs are the most supported NRL club in regional NSW – over 25% of Bulldog fans are located in regional NSW, over 25% are located outside of NSW and over 10% are located in QLD The club has one of the highest average attendances in the league: over the 2010 season, it was one of only two clubs to record an average home crowd of more than 20,000.
The multicultural demographics of the suburbs in the club's support base, such as Lakemba, means the club has a large number of supporters from a range of non-Anglo ethnicities. In recent years the club has become particularly identified in the media with the Lebanese and the Greek community, particularly with the club's former star goalkicker Hazem El Masri, being a Lebanese immigrant who migrated from Lebanon as a young child. The Greek community has a huge history of Greeks playing for the club dating back to the 1970s with club legend George Peponis, being a Greek immigrant who migrated from Greece as a very young child who captained the Bulldogs and Australia. El Masri retired at the end of the 2009 season.
The Melbourne Storm's supporter base grew from almost 500,000 in 2004 to almost 800,000 in 2009, making them the fourth most popular rugby team. The club's supporter group, the "Graveyard Crew", make an Aussie-rules-(AFL) style banner for the team to run through in important matches.
The Sydney Roosters have a strong support base across Australia. Aside from its traditional fan base in Sydney, which is most concentrated in its homeland in the affluent eastern suburbs, the club is also popular in South East Queensland, Canberra and Newcastle. The club has an internet message board for supporters, "The Wall", which has been the official forum since 1999. The club has announced that "The Wall" will be closing as of late January 2012. "The Chookpen" is an unofficial site.
At the club's home ground, the Sydney Football Stadium, the supporters congregate in distinct sections. The "Chook Pen", a designated area in Bay 35, is the preferred location for the most animated fans. Members of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust are seated in the Members' Stand on the western side of the ground, and season ticket holders are located just beneath the Members' area, in Bays 12–14.
In 2014, the Roosters had nearly 17,000 paying members, in addition to the 45,550 members of the Roosters' Leagues Club, which is the major benefactor of the football club. The Easts Leagues Club and the Sydney Roosters "operate as one entity" known as the Easts Group. Under this arrangement, the Eastern Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club is the 'parent company' of the Easts Group. The Football Club delegates, however, overarching responsibility for both football and leagues club operations to a single general manager who oversees the whole group's performance. The leagues club group provides financial support to the football club, only where necessary, as in recent years the football club's sponsorships and TV revenues are generally covering most Rugby League expenditures.
Port Adelaide Football Club has many supporter groups, with every state or territory containing at least one supporter group. In addition, many country towns within South Australia have their own supporter group, many of which travel to both home and away games.
- Port Adelaide Cheer Squad
- Outer Army
- Alberton Crowd
- Interstate Groups
|Adelaide United||Red Army|
|Brisbane Roar||The Den|
|Central Coast Mariners||Yellow Army|
|Melbourne Victory||North Terrace; South End|
|Sydney FC||The Cove|
|Wellington Phoenix||Yellow Fever|
|Western Sydney Wanderers||Red and Black Bloc; West Sydney Terrace|
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 organised 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 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 recognised 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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