Italian Ultras: The Lifeblood of Calcio

italian ultras

Italian ultras have a strong, insane and deep passion for the club they support. For over 50 years, Italian ultras have turned “la curva” (the terrace behind the goal) into a true reflection of the Italian society.

Italian Ultras

Being an ultra means being extremely loyal to the team that you support. It’s not just a game, it’s a lifestyle. Whether there’s sunshine, snow or rain, ultras follow their team with unmatched passion. They are usually in groups of hundreds to thousands – waving flags, scarves, banners and showing their club colours. It’s a culture and a movement that has been there and will continue to exist in the future. 

While most ultras don the colours of their clubs, they have their own unique names and sigil. This is normally easy to recognise. Italian ultras are famous globally for their vocal and passionate displays in all their matches.

Moreover, ultras regularly create choreographies involving banners, smoke effects, flares and fireworks. All these essentials create electric atmospheres that are the envy of many fans across the globe.

Italian Ultra Groups 

The Italian ultra movement started in the 1950s with groups like the Fedelissimi Granata of Torino. In the 1960s, the ultra movements gained momentum. This saw the formation of Fossa dei Leoni and Boys San Groups. The former is seen as the first full-fledge ultra group.

The term ultra was first officially used as a name in 1969 by Sampdoria fans after they formed the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni. Torino fans then formed the Ultras Granata. The 1970s saw more Ultras fill up stadiums.

Other Ultras that formed during this time include Verona (Yellow-Blue Brigade), Fiorentina (Viola Club Viesseux), Napoli (Naples Ultras), Milan (Red and Black Brigade), Torino (Turin Granata), Genoa (Griffin’s Den), Bologna ( For Ever Ultras), Juventus (Juventus Fighters), Atalanta (Black and Blue Brigade), Lazio (Eagle Supporters), and Roma ( Commando Ultra Curva Did). These were the pioneers and many other club’s fans followed suit.

What It Means to Be an Ultra

Football ultras were seen as a subculture in the late 1960s and 70s in Italy. At first, they were pseudo-paramilitary groups. They had names that had military connotations. Throughout history, football hooligans have been known for being drunk, chaotic, and irresponsible. On the other hand, ultras are more organised and follow structures as well as hierarchies. 

Tobias Jones in his book Ultra: The Underworld of Italian Football said, “As with many Italians, the Ultras are fixated on appearance and pageantry.” In big games, the Italian ultras spend thousands of Euros on display and choreographies. You can’t go into an Italian stadium and fail to see mosaics, flares, flags, and banners. 

To be an Italian ultra means that you are an insurgent. You are a revolutionary, a partisan, a brigand, and a rascal. Everyone says that being ultra is a way of life. However, this way of life has greatly evolved, mutated, regenerated, and reinvented itself.

Authentic Voice of Football Fandom

Unlike some countries in Europe, Italian fans don’t have rights in the ownership of clubs. However, Italian ultras have been incorporated into the patrimonial culture within Italian football. After a few squabbles here and there, owners realised that having empty stadia was bad for their business. Therefore, they welcomed the great choreographed displays that the ultras brought into the stadiums.

To ensure harmony with the ultras, many owners provide free tickets to leading ultras to ensure that the stadiums have the necessary environment. Some owners offer subsidised fees for their ultras. On their part, ultras provide banners, ticker-tapes, and their undying support.

While some ultras groups get out of hand at times, the majority of the matches attended by ultras occur without any violence. Ultras are different from hooligans, while hooligans go to matches to square it off with hooligans of the opposite teams, ultras focus mainly on only their club.

Ultras are always in their own colours and mostly matching attires. This is different from those who go to cause trouble because they are mostly inconspicuous in fear of being arrested. 

True to Their Religion

You can travel anywhere around the world but one thing will remain constant. Italian ultras create an amazing atmosphere. This is not the case in every stadium across the world where fans occasionally sing for a few minutes and then keep watching the game.

Italian ultras will continue singing before the game, during the game and even after it has ended. Ultras have brought so much history and character to Italian stadiums.

As Tobias Jones says in his book The Underworld of Italian Football: “You’ll never understand us unless you’re with us.” Many ultras consider this as a calling. They have grown up watching their teams, they are still watching their teams and will continue to give them support.

While in Italy, include visiting any football stadium part of your bucket list. You won’t regret the atmosphere that you will encounter.

Midfielder @ Hooligan F.C.

Donald Maloba is a Kenyan football writer and former football player. He eats, sleeps, and breathes football. He supports AFC Leopards.

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