Ultras of football, a way of life

The image is immediately blurred. The appearance in the mid-1980s in France of groups of ultras supporters, born in fact in Italy of the previous decade, coincides with major tragedies like that of the Heysel and its grim toll: 39 dead and more than 400 injured in the stands during the Champions League final between Liverpool and Juventus Turin. So very quickly, in the general public, the equation “ultras = hooligans” is posed, for a long time.

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The ultras, however, have nothing to do with these bands of hooligans who are defined only by their violence. “The ultras form structured associations which invest a lot in the stands through spectacular chants and choreographies – the tifos – and also position themselves as defenders of their interests, a bit like a union, explains Nicolas Hourcade, sociologist and professor at the École centrale de Lyon. Their goal is victory, on the pitch and in the stands, not pure violence like the hooligans. Even if sometimes there can be slippages ”.

A way of life

Being an ultra is a commitment that goes far beyond the stadium. “Ultra identity covers everything. Belonging to the group takes precedence over professional and even family life. Ultra 7 days a week, it often comes up in slogans. It’s a lifestyle “, underlines Sébastien Louis, professor of history-geography and sociologist at the European School of Luxembourg 1).

Of course, the ultra supporter affirms his attachment to the club and to his city. “So beautiful is my city”, sing the Ultras de Butte Paillade 91 in Montpellier. “My city is the most beautiful, my club is the most beautiful”, sing those of the Horda Frénétik in Metz. The pride of the territory is exhibited by the use in the tifos of municipal coats of arms, by the reference to monuments or historical figures of the city. It is also marked by a desire to be a full player in the local community. Many groups deprived of stadiums during confinement have thus become involved in solidarity operations with certain neighborhoods or in support of associations. “But the identity of their specific group is the most essential”, observes Nicolas Hourcade. Because you have to distinguish yourself from lambda supporters, but also from other groups supporting the same team.

Gradually, the ultras groups have also positioned themselves as the guardians of the temple, resistant to the evolution of a football where the clubs are more and more in the hands of shareholders whose love of the jersey does not seem to be the main motive. investment. “They are really fighting against what I call the industrialization of football, and see themselves as the guarantors of a popular football that escapes them., says Sébastien Louis. This fight is now an integral part of their identity. We see it in some of their logos, where they use rather vintage balloon images for example ”. When leaders waltz, they embody tradition and preserve memory.


Is this kind of conservatism reflected on the political level? “In the early 1990s, confusion with hooliganism meant that these groups were readily attached to an extreme right-wing ideology., says Nicolas Hourcade. So to detach themselves from this image, most of them affirmed their apoliticalism, above all to show that they were not recovered. Likewise, some claim their anti-racism. In fact, these questions often take a back seat because all the members of the same group do not necessarily agree ”.

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Nor are they unanimous on the use of social networks. Some groups are wary of it, others less so. Would a new virtual supporterism threaten ultra-classic identity? ” I do not believe, concludes Sébastien Louis. In all cases, it is a question of investing 100%. In these groups, it is always meritocracy that reigns ”.


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