Although groups resembling Ultras date back to the 1930’s in Brazil, it is generally accepted that Ultras in their modern form emerged in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as fans from continental Europe and in particular Italy took inspiration from the passionate atmosphere created on British terraces.
This expanded into a unique fan culture, with the fans gathered in the curvas or ends, providing not just vociferous vocal backing to their side but also creating colourful displays involving flares and flags to confirm their support.
However, it appears to have somewhat come full circle as more and more British supporters take influence from a culture whose initial influence came from these shores. This can be seen explicitly through groups like Crystal Palace’s Holmesdale Fanatics and more indirectly through the amalgamation of some Ultra behaviour from greater exposure to European football culture in European competition, such as Manchester City’s adaptation of the ‘Poznan’. Equally Manchester United’s Green and Gold campaign, before the day trippers started turning up in Green and Gold jester hats, had all the hallmarks of the European Ultras’ mentality.
Indeed the first British Ultra group, the now defunct, Red Ultras Aberdeen, who were formed in 1999, stated on their website: ‘Many of the founding members drew their inspiration from the colourful supports of other countries witnessed on Scotland or Aberdeen European trips.’
However direct European influence seems to be less of a factor south of the border (the Poznan and Newcastle’s laughable attempt an Ultras movement a few years ago aside), as the majority of the English ultras groups such as the aforementioned Holmesdale Fanatics (Crystal Palace) and the Jorvik Reds (York City) support lower or non league clubs.
These fans, supporting teams who have little chance of major success on the field of play are attempting instead to be the ‘best’ off it, which is hardly a new concept in British football, although they prove this with tifos – an Italian word for the phenomenon of supporting a team, which has come to mean orchestrated displays of support with fireworks, flags, confetti etc – rather than by taking an end or having the best pair of trainers.
Tony White of Middlesbrough’s Red Faction believes: ‘It is a fundamental way of thinking, to uphold the culture and tradition of our home, to show our pride and passion for the history of our region, to sing and celebrate Middlesbrough FC, the flagship of our proud town.’
Critics and sceptics would argue that these groups have bastardised somebody else’s culture and lack any true culture of their own, that it is alien to our own football culture and the occasional spontaneous genius of the English football crowd.
However with the authorities doing their utmost to repress fan culture in this country with overzealous policing, draconian stewarding and ridiculous kick off times designed to suit the armchair fan, at least they are taking a stand. Their attempt to reclaim fan culture is admirable and indeed the ultra mentality is in essence still an extension of the British fan culture that inspired it.
And yet it still feels forced. Having seen Fenerbahçe fans at the Şükrü Saracoğlu, Roma at the Stadio Olympico and Olympiakos’ Gate 7 Ultras at the Karaiskakis, a trip to Selhurst Park doesn’t feel the same. Whilst the Holmesdale Fanatics undoubtedly have good intentions and some of the banners and mosiacs they have created are indeed impressive, the noise in the ground and their new ‘We support the Palace’ song still feels like an attempt to create an atmosphere rather than an atmosphere itself.
Our supporters can definitely learn things from these Ultras, their unwavering support, atmosphere and colour is all sadly lacking from our sanitised modern game, equally many aspects of British football fandom remain unique and we should be proud of them. Thus if the ultra mentality is to truly influence our football culture, it’s ideals should be interpolated into rather than replace what is already there, culture needs to remain organic not forced.
By Callum West
heres a list of clubs with ultras groups in Britain
Red Ultras Aberdeen
Stanley Ultras Accrington Stanley
Phoenix Supras Aldershot Town
Ultras Barrovia Barrow
Forza Eastend Bristol City
Burton Boys Burton Albion
Ultras Carvetii Carlisle United
Th e Green Brigade Celtic
Blue White Army Colchester United
Crawley Devils Crawley Town
Holmesdale Fanatics Crystal Palace
Celt Clan Ultras Farsley Celtic
Cowshed Loyal Huddersfi eld Town
Fosse Boys Leicester City
Ultra Whites Leeds United
Red Faction Middlesbrough
Toon Ultras Newcastle United
Giallo Escercito Oxford United
Th e PLC & U’s Ultras Peterborough United
Swindon Ultras Swindon Town
Sector N3 Telford United
Jorvik Reds York City