Chaos and Anarchy.
The lifeblood of a football club is its supporters and it’s difficult to understand their passion having not been raised in an environment where, in the words of Bill Shankly, “Football isn’t about life and death, it’s much more important than that.”
But when does support go too far and become fanatical?
The second leg of Argentina’s biggest club competition between famed clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate has now been moved to the Bernebeau in Spain due to the Boca Juniors team bus being attacked by what is rumored to be the River Plate Ultras mafia. The reason for the attack was the confiscation of 300 tickets sold and to be distributed by the mafia with sums in the hundreds of thousands – astonishing. Injuries sustained by Boca Juniors players were significant; deep gashes due to flying glass and suffocation due to pepper spray and smoke bombs.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that violence has interrupted major football occasions. Nearly every World Cup prior to the latest, ironically in Russia, has been marred by violence often instigated by hooligans. I classify hooliganism differently than ultra support. Hooliganism is ultimately organized crime while ultra support tiptoes and sometimes crosses the line into violence. I actually love the ultra mentality. The barbaric mindset is what creates the passionate atmosphere that fills the most iconic football stadiums around the world. While not all supporters are ultras that participate in the tribal warfare that occurs inside and outside of the stadium between opposing sets of supporters, the feeling of belonging permeates to the majority. Unfortunately it sometimes results in unsavory scenes and less than respectable behavior but could the level of passion within the concrete walls live-on without it?
Rivalries often extend beyond the supporters into the players. That’s what ultimately makes derby days full of energy. The fact that your clubs local footprint will be embedded in local society if victorious until the next meeting. Your tribe versus their tribe with the victor having bragging rights at home, at work and in the pubs. Those consequences create tribal nature which can at times elevate some who tiptoe the line to eventually cross it.
Ultras are part of football culture. Should they be controlled and capsized, yes. Should they be eliminated, no. The attempt to eliminate chaos in a society where it is almost foundational will result in rebellion and further anarchy. There are some societies in social culture which are founded on certain principles and right or wrong, they must not be completely overturned. The correct way to decrease occurrences of violence is to engage in dialogue which shows an understanding for the requirement of fanatical support while emphasizing the consequences of crossing critical lines.