LEADER: Jose Luis Ochaita
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: late 1980s
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Spain
Ultras Sur are a gang of right-wing football hooligans associated with Real Madrid, Europe's most successful club. Although they follow the Italian Ultra tradition and have been strongly associated with racist chanting and violence, football-related extremism in Spain is generally less prevalent than elsewhere in Europe, particularly Italy, where Ultra fans are longer established, and Eastern Europe, where football hooliganism has escalated dramatically since the fall of communism.
"Italy," the journalist and sociologist, Olivero Beha, once wrote, "is a Republic based on football." Nowhere else in Europe is the aphorism that the sport is more than a game truer than in a country where three daily broadsheet newspapers deal exclusively with football and where the ruling party (led by Silvio Berlusconi, Chairman of the country's second most successful club, AC Milan) takes its name—Forza Italia—from a football chant. At the vanguard of this national obsession are the Ultras, the most passionate section of each club's support.
The Italian term "ultra" is commonly translated to the English term "hooligan," but this ignores several important distinctions. Hooligan owes its name to a disreputable London-based Irish family from the end of the nineteenth century, and commonly denotes a violent mob; the term ultra, by contrast, is more all-embracing and has more overt political connotations (it has referred to the supporters of French kings; but also to post-1968 left-wing groups).
The term first came to be applied to football fans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Post-war Italian society was politically polarized and sporting events were an extension of this schism, with supporters increasingly identifying their clubs with local political ideologies. In Milan, for instance, AC Milan represented the team of the working class (particularly the railway workers) and was considered left wing, whereas Internazionale was the team of the Milanese middle classes and considered a conservative club. Elsewhere, in Communist Emilio, Bologna, inevitably had left-wing supporters; while in Verona, which has a history of extreme right politics, its fans adopted the ideology of the city.
This assumed an organizational basis when representatives of the Italian Social Movement (Mussolini's neo-fascist political successors) were banned from Italy's streets and squares. Its members turned to leading and organizing fans groups as an alternative, and they would unfurl right-wing banners on the curved corner areas of a football stadium (also, traditionally, the cheap seats). Internazionale's Inter Boys and the Ultra of Lazio and Hellas Verona all owe their origins to the Italian Social Movement. Groups of left-wing fans from other clubs—such as Sampdoria, AC Milan, and Bologna—also organized their own ultra groups.
Although the Ultras proved just as adept at violence as their English rivals, they were different in many ways. They were more organized, carrying full membership activities and often operating with the support of the clubs they followed. This could extend to financial backing, free tickets, or simply toleration of some of their excesses. Their membership also extended to women, which set them apart from northern European hooligan gangs. Violence was not a prerequisite either, and many were concerned primarily with putting on a display of color and noise to show their allegiance. Napoli ultra, for instance, would enter their stadium in a mock funeral procession following a coffin covered by the rival team flag. This was a ritual developed from an English custom that dated back to the nineteenth century, although it did not necessarily denote violent intent.
There was also a certain deference shown to English football in general, and hooligans in particular. Many Italian clubs owed their origins to British workers in Italy in the late nineteenth century (several have the flag of St. George incorporated in their emblems); as well as being revered as the game's inventors, their hooligans were admired for being football's bete noires (black sheep). Many Ultra gangs adopted the dress code of the English football casual, designer clothing as opposed to the club's colors, although some gangs took this to an extreme. A section of the Lazio Ultras picked up the name of the Barbours because of their insistence of wearing a type of English waxed coat peculiar to the country's landed gentry.
JOSE LUIS OCHAITA
Jose Luis Ochaita is the leader of Real Madrid's Ultras Sur. Despite a long record of violence—he was arrested in 1998 in Germany for waving Nazi flags, and also banned from matches for three years for attacking a referee in Spain—he has been welcomed by both the Real Madrid players and hierarchy, which has drawn condemnation. In May 2005, following a game in which the Ultras Sur had been seen waving racist banners, Real Madrid's black full back, Roberto Carlos, caused consternation when he was seen giving Ochaita his shirt. Carlos apologized for the incident later, but stopped short of condemning Ultras Sur. He said: "I made a mistake of presenting the shirt at that moment. I wasn't aware of the controversial events that had occurred during the game."
Ultras could, and frequently did, engage in violence, however, which usually involved attacks on rival fans. The nature of their assaults was not as indiscriminate as in England, and the political tendency of a team colored not just rivalries but also provided the basis for alliances with fans from other clubs. For instance, the leftist Ultras of Bologna had a particularly heated rivalry with Hellas Verona's rightwing Ultras, but were also twinned with AC Milan's Ultras and would team up on match days against Verona Ultra—regardless of whether it was Bologna or AC Milan playing them—to attack its fans.
Part of English football hooliganism's reputation was exaggerated because of the actions of fans of its national team and club supporters following their teams in European competition. By contrast, Italian Ultra violence tended not to be associated with either. When thirty-nine Juventus fans died following a riot by Liverpool fans at Brussels' Heysel Stadium in 1985, they had barely been culpable in the fighting.
While the record of domestic football violence in Italy throughout the 1970s and 1980s is comparable to that within England, after 1990, when English football experienced a decline in hooliganism, Italian football violence continued to grow, with attacks becoming even better planned and assuming a nastier edge. Up to a dozen times a season, large-scale and well-orchestrated rioting would take place, with hundreds of incidents taking place on other occasions. On November 29, 1994, for instance, at a Brescia V Roma match, a pre-planned attack against police and Brescia Ultras was carried out by an alliance (which seemingly transcended traditional rivalries) of Roma and Lazio Ultras and neo-fascist ultra members from other Italian cities, using axes, knives, and other weapons. More widely publicized was the abandonment of the European Champions League match between AC Milan and Internazionale in 2005, after the AC Milan goalkeeper was hit on the head by a firework and Inter fans pelted the pitcher in an attempt to get the game cancelled and the score overturned.
Italian Ultras also became increasingly synonymous with the racism they extolled. This often expressed itself in the form of racist chanting against players not just of rival teams, but of their own teams, too. In 1996, Verona and Padova Ultras waged furious protests against their clubs, for signing black players for the following season. More seriously, the racism was carried outside the football stadiums and brought to bear on Italy's immigrant communities. In June 1996, while celebrating their club's promotion to Serie A, a group of extreme-right Bologna hooligans—known as the Mods—violently attacked eight black immigrants. (Following the incident, the predominantly leftist Bolognese Ultra disowned the Mods, and even issued a press release condemning the attack.) Even more notoriously, following the assassination of the Serb warlord, Arkan, in 2000, Lazio's Ultras held up banners proclaiming their sympathy at his death.
While English football hooligans had served as an inspiration to certain supporters elsewhere in the 1970s and 1980s, since 1990, Italian Ultras have increasingly been the example followed by extremist fans in other countries. Across Eastern Europe, where football hooliganism virtually dominates, fan groups calling themselves Ultras carry out acts of extreme violence. Although their racism is even more pronounced than Italian Ultras, they often have more in common—both in terms of fan culture and because of their non-political nature and indiscriminate acts—with northern European skinheads.
In Spain, however, there has been a marked increase in the proliferation and notoriety of what could categorized Ultra groups by more than name alone. Although Spanish football shares many of the qualities of football in Italy—passionate fans, fierce local patriotism, an emphasis of loyalty towards club rather than international football—Ultra groups had been less prevalent, arguably because of the suppression of the Franco regime, up until the late 1980s. Fans of some teams, such as FC Barcelona, which are viewed as de facto representatives of the Catalan nation, could be seen as typifying some of the more positive aspects of Italian Ultras through their colorful flag waving, vociferous chanting, and so on, although they have seldom extolled similar violence or racism. Supporters of other Spanish teams have also shared such characteristics, but during the 1980s and 1990s, increasingly began to assume the political identities of their regions. Thus, sections of fans of Real Madrid, Valencia, and Espanyol (Barcelona's second club) became known for their right-wing posturing; while supporters of Athletico Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna, and FC Barcelona have identified with the left.
This has seldom teetered over into largescale violence, but fans of so-called right-wing clubs have become notorious for their racist chanting, most notably Real Madrid's Ultras Sur. What is most shocking about this group is that it not only has formal ties to the club (as many Italian Ultras do to their own), but has its own offices in Madrid's Bernabéu Stadium in which they store pamphlets, drums, megaphones, and flags bearing General Franco's shield and other neo-Nazi symbols. After home matches, they have been known to organize hunts of blacks, prostitutes, tramps, gays, and supporters of other clubs. Among their favored chants is: "Six million Jews to the gas chambers."
The support given to Ultras Sur by Real Madrid itself is seen as part of a wider malaise within Spanish football. After a friendly match between Spain and England at the Bernabéu in November 2004 was dogged by racist chanting, the Spanish FA were slow in offering an unequivocal apology. Just weeks earlier, the Spainish national coach, Luis Aragones, had described Arsenal's French striker, Thierry Henry, as a "black shit" in front of national television cameras. Again, an apology was not forthcoming. It seems that racism has become the defining problem posed not just by Spain's Ultras, but by the Spanish football authorities, too.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
Ultras Sur are a group of right-wing Real Madrid fans, who view the late fascist leader, General Franco, as their ideological leader. They are fiercely loyal to their team, and although often guilty of racist chanting, their prejudice does not usually extend to Real's own sizable contingent of black players. Although they have been accused of acts of violence, this is not on a scale comparable to that of Italian Ultras.
Elsewhere, Ultra groups are generally marked by a leftor right-wing political orientation. They are noted for their racism against opposition players and violence against fans of a rival allegiance—political or footballing—but they also represent some of football's most passionate and colorful fans who often have no liking for the darker elements of Ultra groups.
Ultras are more markedly organized than English football hooligans, and the violence propagated is less indiscriminate. Often, they have close ties to club administrations, and exist with either tacit or explicit support of the teams they represent.
- Creation of several far-right Italian Ultra groups by the Italian Social Movement; leftwing equivalents emerge at Bologna, AC Milan, and elsewhere.
- Heysel Stadium disaster.
- Emergence of Ultra groups in Eastern Europe and Spain.
- Violent assault on Brescia fans and police by Ultras from Roma, Lazio, and other clubs.
- Spanish fans racially abusing black English players bring worldwide attention on Spanish racism problem.
- Internationale v. AC Milan match abandoned because of Inter fans rioting.
Writing about the racist chanting in Madrid in the March 2005 issue of Observer Sports Monthly, the academic Martin Jacques argued that "Football is the faultline of racism in Europe. No other activity, be it cultural or political, commands the emotion, passion and allegiance, certainly of men, in the same way. Football is the cultural lingua franca of European men. Far from being some kind of hermetically sealed hobby on the periphery of society, a phenomenon only of interest to those who read the sports pages, football is an exemplar of society: it mirrors and gives expression to society's passions and prejudices in a way that politics, for example, is, for the most part, quite unable to do. Indeed, it is about the only activity in which men collectively and publicly express their own emotions. What happened in the Bernabéu exposed, in all its raw crudity, the prejudices that inform Spanish society. Official, polite society—parliament, the media and the rest—contains, channels, constrains and seeks to deny these prejudices. Football reveals them. Bernabéu was one of the most important political events in Europe in 2004, the largest mass racist demonstration in recent years."
Much of Spain was in a state of denial about the racist chanting, and some newspapers even blamed it on the British press for their earlier criticism of Luis Aragones' unsavory description of Thierry Henry. The reaction of Marca, a liberal daily, was more considered: "It is only the colour of the shirt that should count in a stadium or any sporting arena," proclaimed an editorial. "The monkey chants that were directed at England's black players last Wednesday oblige us to condemn them energetically, and invite all of us to make a profound reflection: Are we really racist?"
Nevertheless, it retained strong words for the English who, from the Prime Minister and head of the FA, down to ordinary football fans, had been universal in their condemnation. "As we admit our own errors and inappropriate attitudes, profoundly lamenting what happened and appealing that it may never happen again, English football has a part to play too," Marca claimed. "It should ask if it really has the moral authority to hand out lessons when its 'hooligans' continue to write some of the darkest pages in football history; when there have been similar episodes in its stadiums. The most coherent thing to do now would be to lead by example. England isn't exactly an example of 'fair play.'"
The xenophobic abuse of England's black players by Spain fans in November 2004 highlighted not just the malaise of racism within Spanish football, but brought a focus its ultra groups—prior to this event, regarded as a far less malevolent force than "extremist" fans elsewhere in the world. Groups like Ultras Sur share many of the worst characteristics of the Italian Ultra groups they set out to imitate, but at the same time their abuses have not only gone unchecked, but have been carried out with the support of the clubs they claim to represent. Only when this approval dissipates will a decline in the extremist activities of Ultra groups be witnessed.
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