“Football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen” – so goes the line in the movie Invictus. Sadly though, it’s true. Football, known the world over as “the beautiful game”, sometimes also delves into the dark side. Hooliganism being one of them. The unbridled joy that comes from watching a player dribble his way past defenders and scoring an all-important goal can be over-shadowed quickly by murky incidents seen during derby clashes worldwide. Clashing of rival fans is a common place occurrence nowadays, almost accepted with a shurg of the shoulders – unless it is followed by the death of an unfortunate fan, in which case a lot of noise precedes what is inevitably a return to the status quo.
“Madness is like gravity…all it needs is a little push” – as was said by Joker in The Dark Knight. There are two kinds of people who follow football – the fan and the fanatic. Push a fan too far, and he turns into the latter. Football fanatics will go to any extent to prove their ‘loyalty’ to the club, to denounce any opposition player, and to humiliate the rival fans, crossing all limits of human decency in the process.
The Anatomy of an Ultra group
Football ultras are predominantly followers of European football teams, although they can be found almost anywhere in this world. Analysing the psyche of such a group, starts with the obvious signs – they choreograph displays when their teams enter the stadium, tend to use flares, offer vocal support in large groups, are defiant in front of authorities and also indulge in displaying huge banners in football arenas, thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to their own team and an inhospitable environment for the opposition players. However, their actions sometimes border on the extreme and are often influenced by racial violence and political ideologies.
Formation of such an ultra group can be traced back to late 1960’s in Italy. Currently, Germany has the maximum number of such groups. The longest standing ultra group was founded in Turin in 1951.
Like most hierarchical structures, an ultra group is based around a core group, which holds exclusive control over the entire group. Rest assured, their culture consists of much more mix of scarf-waving and chanting and their numbers can vary from a handful to even an entire stadium in some cases. There are four core points of the ultra mentality, which are
• 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
• Be loyal to the stand in which the group is located (also known as the Curva or Kop).
However, ultras are not to be confused with hooligans. A fine line divides the two. Hooligans are more interested in fighting fans of other clubs, whereas Ultras are more focused in their support of their team. Also, hooligans tend to keep a low profile in public so as to evade the authorities, while ultras are more open and vocal about their clubs, creating a noisy ambience, which allows the police to keep an eye on their movements.
Significance of Curva
Curva refers to the number of stands in a stadium, particularly in Italy. They derive their nomenclature from their curved or bent shape. Normally, a Curva is located behind the goals and holds the most vocal supporters of a team. Curva are classified into major and minor, depending on the presence of a running track around the field. AC Milan and Internazionale’s home ground, the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza has two such curvas – one for each team, the Curva Nord holds the Nerazzurri fans, while the Curva Sud houses the Rossonero ultras.
A Curva is the primary point of support for the home team. When a match between rivals is played out in such a stadium featuring ultras from both teams in either of the curvas, there are two clashes going on at the same time – on the field and in the stands. Such is the significance of the Curva in ultra culture.
Fossa Dei Leoni – the Rise and Fall
Fossa Dei Leoni is an association of ultras supporting AC Milan. It was founded in 1968 and was also one of the earliest to form in Italy. It started off as a gathering of passionate Milan fans in their club jerseys along with stadium flags and confetti. But in the years to come, it would evolve into one of the prima donna ultra groups. Like other ultra groups, it too was shaped by the political scenario of Italy at that time and it identified itself on to the left wing, whereas Inter’s ultras were right wing followers. They even carried a picture of Che Guevara at the stadiums. But that image of being a left wing supporter changed when Silvio Berlusconi arrived at Milan. The Fossa formed the canvas from which spawned other ultra groups and it also had the distinction of being cited in an Italian movie named “Eccezzziunale… veramente”.
Owing to some trouble with the police, the Fossa temporarily changed its name to “Inferno Rossonero “(Red-Black-Hell) during 1975-77. After a long period of 38 years, the Fossa was dissolved in 17th November 2005 owing to consequences arising out of a Milan-Juventus match. An incident of two stolen banners led to an internal conflict between Milan fans and the Fossa, where the Fossa was accused of collaborating with DIGOS or Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali for the restitution of the stolen merchandize. Siding with the authorities was unacceptable to the ultras and as a result of the conflict, came the bitter but proud decision to dissolve it and thus close the wonderful adventure of the Lion’s Den.
In the world of football, ultras have come to denote just how fanatical the support for a team can be. Moulded by various ideologies, they have championed their cause for support in an overtly exhibitionist and loud manner, all the while steering clear of the physical abuse of supporters of other teams, which has come to characterize the nature of football hooligans. The sole intention of upholding the club values is dearer to an ultra than denouncing a rival. The Fossa Dei Leoni fell due to its pride, but its motto will live on forever in the hearts of Rossonero fans worldwide – “Milan campioni, la Fossa dei Leoni”.