It’s hard to imagine a football match without fans supporting their clubs, without the chants, songs, drums, flags and club banners that are proudly put on display. Nowadays, the supporters have not only become a staple in every football match. Matches seem empty without groups of people who cheer for their clubs until they run out of breath.
When we attend football matches, we can’t fail to notice hundreds if not thousands of supporters who work as a solid unit. Songs seem to be sung by a single person, flags wave in the wind in the same rhythm and cheering seems to be done in a precisely synched fashion. When we see that, we can’t help but notice, they are not the usual kind of supporters. There is no doubt that every sports fan enjoys seeing his club win and cheers for his team to win every match, but they are different, they take supporting the club to another level. Those are the people who say they live for their club and would die for their club. And mean it.
Those group of supporters are known under the name “Ultras“, a word which originated in Italy and is now used all over the world to describe only the most dedicated, enthusiastic, faithful and the most organized group of fans.
When the word “Ultras” is mentioned we tend to quickly associate it with the most known football supporter groups in the world. Some remained in our minds due to the incidents they caused, others due to their incredible choreography that could be seen in the stands. And while there is a big difference between groups that are responsible for violent incidents and those who focus on organized cheering, both of the groups have on thing in common; love for their club.
But where did it all start? To answer that, we need to travel back in time to 1950s.
The origin of the so-called ultras movement is still unclear. The issue is that ultras groups formed long before those groups were made official. Additionally, there is no clear indicator of which group of supporters can be described as ultras. Officially, we could set the date to 1939, when the first group by the name “Torcida organizada” was established in Brazil. Another date could also be the October 28th, 1950, when the Croatian team Hajduk Split formed their own supporter group Torcida Split, who are still very active today.
While the first ultras groups were Torcida organizada and Torcida Split, the whole ultras movement and culture took off in Italy. In the 1960s two of the most well-known supporter groups were formed. We are of course talking about Fossa dei Leoni (AC Milan) and their arch-rivals Boys San (Inter Milan). Soon after other clubs followed, among one of the most notorious groups of SS Lazio.
At that time, the groups were not called ultras. Term ultras was used as a name for the first time in 1969 when Sampdoria supporters decided to call themselves Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni. After that, the name and the style of support ultras showed developed and gained a lot of popularity. In the 1970s, more clubs followed with their own supporter groups.
In the years that followed, the “activities” of ultras have become more and more notable in the football world, as they were clearly different from the “usual” supporters in many levels. While we could argue the ultras are made out of only the most loyal supporters, the difference is also seen in the stands. From having their own chants, songs, choreography, banners, symbols, drums… to even using fireworks, ultras are by many described as the heart of the team.
After gaining a lot of traction in Italy, the ultras movement started spreading across Europe like wildfire, reaching the whole world by 2000s. By now, ultras groups have become well organised with their own leaders, smaller groups across the world, their own merchandise and even strong ties with the club owners, with whom they can arrange to reserve the whole section of the stands for themselves.
Ultras usually settle with reserving themselves a particular spot in the stadium, also known as “Curva”, which is an Italian name for curved stands. Being that it’s a preferred position ultras tend to be, it has played a huge part in the culture of ultras.
There is sadly a negative stigma connected with the world “ultras”, mostly due to violence and other incidents caused by football hooligans.
While we by no means can say ultras and football hooligans are the same groups of people, the two terms can get confused rather quickly. While ultras main goal is to support their clubs, hooligans’ main goal is to fight the hooligans of the other team. Out of all the countries; England has/had the highest number of football hooligan groups, however, they managed to crack down on football-related violence in the 1990s.