By Jerry Mancini.
They can be seen at every football match in Italy: groups of fans often stationed behind one of the goals for maximum visibility; singing, bearing banners with various messages emblazoned on them, combined with a team logo or special phrase.
But what makes these fans different from other fans in the stadium who also turn up to support the same team?
Ultras are very passionate about their team, and make sure that they are known and heard. They are often referred to as Tifosi, from the Italian word tifo, which in the Italian context means a passionate group of supporters rather than a display or banner, as it has come to mean in other countries.
In the early 1960s, the majority of fans were simply going to the game to support their team and enjoy the atmosphere. As the years went by, ultras slowly became more recognizable across various leagues in European football and created their own separate group of fans at the game.
Club Fedelissimi Granata Torino 1951 are among the first recognised organised supporters groups, separate from others in the stadium, and were an early example of the ultras phenomenon.
Club Fedelissimi Granata Torino 1951.Il primo esempio in Italia di tifo organizzato.Qua in una foto della stagione 1976/77.
Posted by IL TORO dei 50 punti on Monday, 22 January 2018
As the years passed the ultras became more serious in their aims and the messages they were sending out at games, and also on the days between matches.
One of the first serious groups of football supporters, the Fossa dei Lioni (The Lion’s Den) were founded in Milan in 1968, at AC Milan.
In 1969, in the North of Italy, the Boys San (Squadre d’Azione Nerazzurre) were founded and they were the first group of ultras to declare themselves a decided right-wing organization.
Subsequently, many groups were formed from club to club, differing in their message, political stance, and identity.
During the match, ultras claimed territory in the stadium. Throughout the years, it became common for the ultras to occupy the area behind the goal, known as the curva.
The curva is again common in Italy, and fairly self-explanatory, originating from the curved shape of the stand behind the net, and has become synonymous with ultras, and well known for being their territory in the stadium.
Stadiums which have more than one team such as San Siro in Milan and the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, have differentiated themselves.
For instance, at the Stadio Olimpico, Lazio is known as the Curva Nord and Roma has been known as the Curva Sud. When the home team has the advantage, they claim the curva for that game while the opposing team is in the visitor section.
The curva has been an area of the stadium where some of the most devoted fans come together. They meet before the game, or during the game to cheer on the home team.
In this area, there is a mix of both choreographed displays of support and, at times, disapproval for their club.
If fans are unhappy, they will voice their displeasure, whether that be wanting a manager fired, or protesting against high ticket prices.
Ultra groups, depending on their relationship with the club, could receive favouritism over regular fans. They are able to receive cheaper tickets, storage room for flags and banners, and early access to the stadium to prepare their displays before the game starts.
While ultras support their team, there is also another side to these groups. Although not all ultras should be considered the same, some are known for ticket-touting and counterfeit merchandising.
Although they are promoting their club, sometimes the interests of the ultras become a bigger priority, and it could come in the way of how they do business.
Over the decades, ultras have grown to develop their own views. While some views are in the best interest for the club, others have resulted in forms of racism or violence.
In recent seasons there have been incidents involving racist chants towards players including Romelu Lukaku, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Tiemoue Bakayoko among others.
As a result, these groups have an effect on the image of a club and on the other supporters at the game who have no involvement on these matters, which is unfortunate.
This is a part of the game which many fans wish could be changed or no longer existed.
Some supporters have created groups which have made the experience of football better and more enjoyable for all.
Not all experiences are the same. At some stadiums, the excitement, joy and cheering for a team in the most respectful and well-mannered way can be felt and heard.
However, in Italian football today, racism and violence is a matter that continues to grow and has affected teams such as Genoa, Cagliari, and Inter.
Serie A continues to do nothing about the matter and this infuriates fans all around the world.
Just remember, let’s be happy for those fans who continue to help promote the game in the best way possible, showcase what it means to be a serious fan of their club, and enjoy what they love most, football.