02/26/14

Football Supporters and Political Protests: A Future Trend?

A demonstrator holds up a flare during a protest to demand the ouster of the Islamist-dominated government in Tunis

The world is undergoing a period of historic transition. Times are rapidly changing and many feel insecure and angry. The worst economic depression since the 1930’s has taken its toll. People are no longer willing to idly sit by and let the politicians decide their future. They have taken to the streets to voice their discontent with the economic, political and social state of affairs in their countries. The unrest in Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela and Ukraine are just are few of the recent examples.

On the Channel 4 news, a man from the Donetsk region (a staunch pro-Russian area of Eastern Ukraine) gave insight into why he opposed a move toward the Europeanisation of Ukraine.

“On February the 1st the demonstration for the legalisation of bestiality in Berlin, I heard there are 100,000 people practicing bestiality in Germany.” He continued.

“In Lithuania they were only seven votes short of passing a law where 6-year-olds would learn not only about sex between men and women but also homosexuality.”

Having watched the interview the man’s scathing attack on the Germans felt slightly reminiscent of the irrational fervour that swept Europe during the 1930’s. Since when have the Germans been known for bestiality? He portrayed them as inferior animals who indulge in these backward practices, much like the blood libel that was sporadically perpetrated throughout the Middle-Ages and 20th century in Europe. This was coupled with archaic views on sexuality; however the man made no coherent economic or political argument for why Ukraine should move towards the East and Russia. It was a bizarre justification for the rejection of the European Union and a worrying one at that.

The man and his compatriots were also wearing orange and black ribbons on their coats. They appeared to be a badge of identity and far from being an expert on Ukraine and Eastern Europe I initially associated the colours with the city’s biggest football club – FC Shakhtar Donetsk. However having consulted Manuel Veth, a Phd student researching economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football, he informed me that the orange and black tassels were actually the ribbons of St George. These ribbons constitute one of the most recognised and respected symbols of military valour in modern Russia. However my supposition that they were connected to football supporters may not be a coincidence.

There are striking similarities between many of the aforementioned protests. One recurring theme which deserves further scrutiny is the role of organised football supporters within the demonstrations in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine.

The politicisation of organised fans or Ultras is well-documented. On occasion this has led to the dissemination of deplorable political views within the football stadia. However while these organised groups are infamous for their tendency towards mindless chaos, the recent global turmoil has demonstrated the social and political sway they hold. The fiercest of rivals have, if only momentarily, put their differences aside and united in a cause which goes far beyond the echelons of football support.

 Ukraine – Defenders of the right to protest

Protests quickly escalated in Ukraine with thousands taking to the streets. (Photo from http://www.businessinsider.com/)

Protests quickly escalated in Ukraine with thousands taking to the streets. (Photo from http://www.businessinsider.com/)

Parts of Ukraine have become a war-zone in the last couple of weeks and the most recent development has seen president Viktor Yanukovych ousted in what is increasingly looking like a bona fide revolution. One of the more idiosyncratic features of this insurrection has been the involvement of Ukrainian Ultras.

In a piece titled ‘Ukrainian Ultras and the Unorthodox Revolution’ on their blog – FutbolgradDavid McArdle and Manuel Veth state the Ultras are being portrayed by Western media as protectors of Euromaidan. In their words: “Rather than protesting per se they purport to be apolitical, merely protecting those who wish to express their dissent.”

The article acknowledges the Ultras have their own motivations for taking to the streets. These include battling government hired thugs – Titushky and the special forces of the police – Berkut. But they have also demonstrated a level of organisation and political awareness, advocating the right to freedom of speech. Even supporters of clubs in Eastern Ukraine (notoriously Pro-Russian) have in some cases opposed government forces fighting for the rights of the dissidents. The Ultras, like the wider population of Ukraine have grown weary of self-serving oligarchs.

Egypt – A Footballing Coup

Egyptian Ultras take to the street to protest. (Photo from http://mideastsoccer.blogspot.co.uk/)

Egyptian Ultras take to the street to protest. (Photo from http://mideastsoccer.blogspot.co.uk/)

“We always say that our revolution started in 2007 not 2011. Most of the group was thinking freedom all the way. We went down to the streets to be part of the revolution as Egyptian citizens, not as Ultras.”  Taken from the Channel 4 website, the quote is by Ahmed Gaffer a founding member of Al Ahly’s militant Ultra Group Al Ahlawy – soldiers of the Egyptian revolution.

In January 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians spilled into the streets to call for an end to president Hosni Mubarak’s reign. During this period the football stadium was an outlet for popular discontent at a time when freedom of speech was highly curtailed. When the uprising began the fans simply took their defiance onto the streets. Historic differences between the Ultras of Cairo clubs Al Ahly (Ultras Al Ahlawy) and Zamalek (The Ultras White Knights) were put aside. James Dorsey, an academic who writes extensively on Football in the Middle East, summarised their role.

 “It was Ahly and Zamalek Ultras who led marches into Tahrir Square and in some areas, where security forces had blocked exits, it was Ultras who would stand on roofs and threw down Molotov cocktails.”

They defended protestors against the police and helped the people overcome their trepidation about challenging the regime. Mubarak eventually fell in February 2011. After the Port Said tragedy in 2012 there was a gradual political disengagement from the Ultras. Yet for a brief moment they had discovered that they could wield a political power by uniting, using their experience in defying authority for the benefit of change.

Turkey: Gezi Park and the Football Ultras

Turkish supporters united in Gezi Park protests against

Supporters from Turkish clubs Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce united in Gezi Park protests against Recep Tayyip Eerdogan’s regime. (Photo from uk.eurosport.yahoo.com)

Turkey tells a similar tale. In May, 2013, around 50 environmentalists began a protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to prevent its demolition. The initially peaceful protest provoked a ruthless response from the Turkish police and the protest quickly swelled with numbers in excess of 10,000.

Many Turkish football fans, especially Beşiktaş JK’s militant Ultra group Çarşi were already opposed to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government (The Justice and Development Party’s – AKP). The regimes introduction of restrictive measures on human rights combined with the oppressive police tactics used at Gezi Park saw Çarşi join the protesters. Yasmin Çongar  a writer on Turkish affairs  claims the Ultras were keen to share their experiences in dealing with tear gas with their Gezi Park compatriots, and they took a front line role shielding the demonstrators from police brutality.

More importantly the insurgent ardour helped achieve something which most sport commentators thought impossible. Just like in Egypt and Ukraine, this political maelstrom saw fans from rival clubs Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş unite. Although their influence did not extend to toppling a regime they played a pivotal role in opposing the government. In recent weeks trouble in Turkey has flared once again and Fenerbahçe supporters have been at the forefront of the largest anti-government demonstrations since the Gezi Park protests on Taksim Square back in 2013.

Football protests and defiance, a history and future

Football has long been a setting where views and opinions are rarely stymied. A trawl through history provides ample examples.

In the Communist, totalitarian state of Soviet Russia, Spartak Moscow (named after the Roman rebel Spartacus) represented a symbol of defiance against the state, who controlled Moscow’s biggest teams including Dynamo Moscow (run by secret police) and CSKA (the armies team). The Hungarian team of the 1950’s (the marvellous Magyars) led by their revolutionary talisman Ferenc Puskas, opened the eyes of a nation to the possibility of change from the rigid functionality of the apparatchik Matyas Rakosi’s regime.

In Nazi-Germany, Bayern Munich – a club with a Jewish president and Jewish manager  battled to survive during Hitler’s dictatorship. The club was persecuted for its Jewish links but Bayern became an outlet for resistance. Their players engaged in acts of defiance such as brawling with Nazi Brown Shirts and one player by the name of Willy Simetsreiter, went out of his way to have his picture taken with Jesse Owens.

 Bayern Munich honour ex Jewish president Kurt Landauer in a game vs. Eintracht Frankfurt. (Photo from http://www.101greatgoals.com/)

Bayern Munich honour ex Jewish president Kurt Landauer in a game vs. Eintracht Frankfurt. (Photo from http://www.101greatgoals.com/)

Today football supporters are uniting against what they see as an intransigent and inequitable hierarchy. These groups are not just a dishevelled bunch of hooligans, what makes them so powerful is that many of them are not mindless. I return to the man I sited earlier who expressed his views on Channel 4.

Are his views xenophobic? Certainly. Does he lack political consciousness? I doubt it. He represents the thousands of people who are uncomfortable with the changes in modern society. These ideas reflect insecurities about socially evolving issues such as national identity, race, and homosexuality etcetera.

Therein lies the risk attached to the mobilisation of Ultra groups. There is a reason why Ultras in these countries have been suppressed. As noble as their revolutionary causes, they have the power and potential to ignite a movement with much more sinister consequences, for example in Ukraine where fascist and white supremacist elements have been highly prominent in the recent uprising. It will be intriguing to observe how the role of the Ultras in the political grappling evolves.

We are witnessing a phenomenon that we can expect to see more of. Football is a game which mirrors the society in which it exists. In Brazil we have seen FIFA become a pariah due to the countries social and economic deficiencies. This in a country where one of their greatest ever World Cup winners, Ronaldo, proclaimed “football is in our blood.”

Bayern Munich fans unveil banner reading "Football is everything including gay" (Photo from http://suedkurve-muenchen.org/wp-content/gallery/fc-bayern-eintracht-frankfurt-02-02-2014/30.jpg%5D)

Bayern Munich fans unveil banner reading “Football is everything including gay” (Photo from http://suedkurve-muenchen.org/wp-content/gallery/fc-bayern-eintracht-frankfurt-02-02-2014/30.jpg%5D)

If football supporters can harness their involvement in politics and fight for positive, social reform, then the role of football in enacting social change could grow ever more relevant. Bayern Munich supporters provided the world with a perfect example when they unveiled a banner in a game against Eintracht Frankfurt this season reading “Fußball ist alles, auch schwul” (Football is everything, including gay).

Who knows people might look back at this period and pinpoint it as a moment of genuine change. Whether that will be for the better or for the worse only time will tell. However don’t be surprised if the role of football and its supporters becomes a leitmotif in this epoch of social and political transition.

02/23/14

The Ultras of Cagliari

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Cagliari

City: Cagliari – Sardinia

Key Ultra GroupsSconvolts and I Furiosi (The Furious)

Other fan groups: Fossa Ultras, Commando Ultras Supporters Young, Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord, Eagles, Crazy Boys, Brigata S. Elia, Panthers, Rebels, I Miserabili (the Wretches), I Weltschmerz (the World Weariness), Bunker Skin, Vecchie Facce (Old Faces).

In John Foot’s book, Calcio: a history of Italian football, there is a striking vignette of a funeral procession being led by Cagliari fans following their Serie A triumph in 1970.

The Cagliaritani are carrying little coffins through their narrow cobbled streets mourning La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady). After beating them to the title the fans have decided to bury Juventus. It is a typical example of how Italians often mix Calcio with religious sentiments and it also demonstrates the Cagliaritani‘s sardonicism, a word entirely appropriate due to its definition and etymology; the Greeks believed eating a plant from Sardinia caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter.

Cagliari is the biggest club on the island of Sardinia. Their ground Lo Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia has only recently started to host games again due to its decrepit state, however, in the late 1980s its Curva Nord was renowned for being one of the most colourful and vibrant in Italy, producing spectacular choreographies with witty banners.

This was partly inspired by the birth of Cagliari’s most famous Ultra groups, the Sconvolts in 1987 and I Furiosi in 1989. The Sconvolts, whose name comes from the word sconvolto, which means shocked or deranged, were formed as a subgroup of both the Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord and Eagles 1985. I Furiosi on the other hand was formed by ex-members of the Sconvolts and a number of other small groups.

The Ultras of Cagliari are an unorthodox bunch and they differentiate themselves as “duro e puro” (“tough and pure”). It is an aphorism which suits them. Unlike many Italian Ultras they were renowned not for their violent nature, but for their dedication and passion, especially during la trasferta (the away day). This was largely down to geography. For many the ferry was the only viable option and we are not talking about Dover to Calais. Cagliari to Rome takes 13 hours and that doesn’t include travel on the mainland. Despite the long and gruelling journeys, the Ultras relished la trasferta and their stalwart support for I Rossoblu has earned them respect all over Italy.

Yet, in what is becoming a recurring theme, deep underlying divisions existed between their principal groups. This was born from a difference in mentality and ideology. While the Sconvolts remained apolitical, I Furiosi held right-wing sympathies and this meant they had their own twinnings and rivalries. Until 2012, the Sconvolts only recognised true ties with Foggia, whereas I Furiosi had friendships with the Veronese, Interisti and Wild Kaos Atalanta.

I Furiosi also developed a famous rivalry with the Milanisti after they managed to steal a striscione (banner) at one of Cagliari’s home games. Losing a striscione to a rival is shameful; it is the modern day equivalent of losing the king’s colours in battle. This shame was compounded when the Milan Ultras proceeded to reveal this banner at the next game between the two sides. One account even reports a grown man crying with despair at the sight of it.

The incurable differences between the Cagliaritani meant they occupied different positions on the Curva Nord and in 2003 this conflict reached its peak. The Sconvolts travelled to their game against Hellas Verona with the sole aim of revenge. It was meticulously planned. They travelled in small groups so not to attract attention from the police. Arriving in the city they gathered behind the Curva Sud of the Stadio Bentegodi (the realm of the Verona Ultras) and they waited with iron bars, sticks and smoke grenades.

All hell broke loose, a bar was wrecked, fights raged with the Veronesi, two police were hospitalised and 33 Sconvolts were arrested. In the aftermath of the fight, the Veronesi posted the following on a fan forum “It was a fair fight, without the use of knifes… Honour and respect to the Sconvolts.”

The tranquil reputation that followed the Cagliaritani had vanished. But here comes the truly shocking part. This vendetta was a consequence of events that had occurred in Cagliari five months earlier. At the corresponding home fixture, members of I Furiosi had teamed up with Hellas Verona Ultras and attacked the Sconvolts. It was the gravest of insults and one the Sconvolts could not ignore. The Furiosi disbanded later that year and while the exact reasons are hard to ascertain, it was certainly connected to this incident.

Today the Sconvolts remain famous across Italy. Although their numbers have dwindled due to a large proportion of their recent home games being played in Trieste (a mere 666 miles away), their old adage of “pochi ma buoni” (“few but good”) is truer now than ever.

They remain passionate and loyal and their slogan “Essere ultras esserlo nella mente” )Being Ultras is a state of mind”) is famous nationwide. This is encapsulated in a quote by a member of the Sconvolts: “Nobody in their right mind would leave their family on a Saturday to travel to Trieste to watch the last game of the season with nothing riding on it. It’s the purest of passion with no logic”

You can also read these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

Follow myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

02/14/14

Random Rambles Part II: Anelka’s Appeal and More Brazilian Protests

As I said I would be posting a couple of articles with my thoughts on a few current issues and here is the second part of my random rambles, focusing on Anelka’s appeal against the FA’s charges regarding his quenelle gesture and yet more social unrest brewing in Brazil.

Anelka’s appeal carries no weight.

Following Anelka’s ill-advised quenelle salute during a match against West Ham on 28 December, 2013, the FA found the Frenchman guilty of making a gesture alleged to be “abusive or indecent or insulting or improper.” A further statement from English football’s governing body read “It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3, in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.”

The West Bromwich Albion forward, who faces a minimum five game ban, has launched an appeal against the charges and requested a personal hearing in a move which could see his ban doubled if he is still found guilty after the appeal. In my opinion doubling his ban is exactly the line the FA should take.

Anelka's quenelle celebration vs. West Ham back in December 2013.

Anelka’s quenelle celebration vs. West Ham back in December 2013.

Having written about this incident a few weeks ago in my article European Footall and Fascism, I advocated a severe punishment for Anelka and his appeal merely reinforces my view. Just like his friend and compatriot, comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala (the man who brought the gesture to prominence), Anelka has denied the quenelle is a ‘reverse Nazi salute’ or a gesture with anti-Semitic connotations, instead claiming that its anti-establishment. This is disingenuous.

Whether the quenelle started off as anti-establishment (about which I am sceptical) is largely irrelevant. The gesture has been pictured in front of synagogues, Auschwitz, at the Jewish school where Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah killed three children, by signs for rue des Juifs (Jews’ Street) and in front of the train wagons that transported French Jews to the concentration camps.

It seems unlikely that this celebration was spontaneous, heat of the moment and without forethought. Especially considering it was during a match Anelka knew was being televised in France. So whether it was a dedication to his comedian friend or not, why did  he feel the need to show his support for Dieudonné on this global stage and in this manner?

There is an argument suggesting the gesture was more anarchic then anti-Semitic as the celebration did not occur in a specifically Jewish place, a fact pointed out by Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of Jewish institutions in France. However this is flimsy at best. Anelka used this argument in a Facebook message in which he asked the FA to “kindly remove” the charge made against him, however Cukierman has further clarified his comments saying the player’s sympathy for the gesture is “clearly suspect”. He hits the nail on the head. Anelka is a 34-year-old man and a close friend to Dieudonné, so the theory that he was oblivious to the gestures more sinister nuances or lacked the foresight to predict the potential fall out from his celebration lacks credibility.

The symbolism of a gesture remains whatever the setting. Take Prince Harry’s ill-fated decision to dress up in a Nazi costume for a party back in 2005. It was a naive faux-pas from a juvenile 20-year-old. However this did not save him from a public backlash, the media running headlines such as “Harry The Nazi”. Of course a gesture is more provocative and offensive in certain environments than others, but that doesn’t negate its symbolism. As soon as the quenelle became associated with anti-Semitism, it developed a symbolic power and a Premier League footballer in today’s society, right or wrong, is a role model to millions across the globe. Therefore Anelka should have known better.

You can bet your bottom dollar there was a young child somewhere across the globe imitating Anelka’s celebration. Even young Romelu Lukaku (on loan at Everton), came out in staunch defence of a man he identifies as one of his footballing idols. The FA lost the initiative having failed to respond with immediate repercussions. They must now look to set a precedent by banning Anelka for a minimum of eight to ten games.

“Protests and more protests in Brazil”

“There Will Be No World Cup”. This was the slogan of one of the recent protests in Brazil. The economic fragility and gross social inequality has seen malcontent spread throughout the country and the public furore concerning government expenditure on this summer’s World Cup has by no means been alleviated. Add this to the fact that 2014 is not only a World Cup year in Brazil, but also an election year with Dilma Rousseff set to run for a second four-year term as president, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Protests flare up in the streets of Sao Paulo. 'There will be no cup' (Photo from www.therepublic.com)

Protests flare up in the streets of Sao Paulo. ‘There will be no cup’ (Photo from www.therepublic.com)

The political protests tainted what was a very successful Confederations Cup for the host nation on the field and they remain a real concern to the Brazilian government who fear that similar unrest could severely disrupt this summer’s tournament. Since the demonstrations witnessed last June, Rousseff’s government have been unable to assuage public discontent. Although recent outcries have been smaller in scale, they have still resulted in vandalism of banks and violent clashes with police, as hardcore groups of protesters nationwide, some of whom call themselves ‘Black Blocs’, cause disruption within some of Brazil’s major cities. The latest development’s in Rio de Janeiro have seen hundreds of people clash with authorities during protests against increased fares for public transport. The skirmishes have been brutal with six people left injured, twenty arrested and a journalist left in critical condition in hospital after he was struck by an explosive device.

Reports have claimed Brazilian security forces are implementing a stringent crackdown, using undercover agents, intercepting emails and meticulously monitoring social media to try to ensure this summers World Cup is not remembered for the battles on the streets rather than the battles on the field.

Having already commented on this issue – Brazil, Stadiums and Protests – all I want to add is this. It is all very well making sure the World Cup runs smoothly and everyone wants to witness a successful event which celebrates football. However as an emerging nation in the world’s global economy, the Brazilian government and FIFA must not attempt to conceal and neglect the country’s social and economic shortfalls under the guises of a footballing fiesta.

Using the words of the recently deceased Nelson Mandela “Sport has the power to inspire and unite people” and football is such a vehicle. Despite the protesters slogans, the ‘show will go on’. But it is the government’s responsibility and FIFA’s (despite their mumbling) to make sure that once the World Cup comes to an end, these social and economic ills are not swept aside once again in preparation for their next major sporting event – the 2016 Summer Olympics. The World Cup has provided the Brazilian government with an audience, they now need to prove the country is worthy of one.

02/9/14

The Ultras of Catania

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A guide to the Ultra groups in Serie A: Catania

City: Catania – Sicily

Key Ultra Groups: Falange d’Assalto Rossazzurra (Red and blue Assault Phalanx), Irriducibili (Unbreakables).

Other Ultra Groups: A Sostegno di una fede (In Support of a faith), Onda d’urto (Shockwave), Giovani Rossazzurri (Young Red and blues), Decisi (The Determined), Drunks, I Pazzi (The Crazy ones), Ultras-Ghetto, Boys Resca (Barb Boys), Tigna (Ringworm), Torrone (Nougat), A.N.R (Associazione Non Riconosciuta – The Unknown Association), Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard).

The air filling the baroque styled streets surrounding Catania’s Stadio Angelo Massimino is thick with the fumes of tear gas and smoke. Palermo’s David Di Michele has earned a famous victory in the Derby di Sicilia, much to the chagrin of the Catania Ultras. But while the battle on the field is lost, the war on the streets has just begun. The Catania fans vent their fury at the police. Homemade bombs, flares, firecrackers, pipes, rocks, pieces of sink and even a scooter rain down on the authorities. The cacophony of explosions, helicopters, and yells almost drown out the approaching ambulance sirens. Amidst the maelstrom a policemen lies fatally injured. Allegedly struck by a broken sink and a missile which exploded in his vicinity, he would later die from his injuries in hospital. The officer’s name was Filippo Raciti and the events of February the 2nd, 2007, remain one of the most ignominious in Il Calcio’s history. Life on the Curva would never be the same again.

The day after Raciti’s death Gazzetta Dello Sport ran the headline “Poliziotto Ucciso Il Calcio Chiude” – Policeman Murdered, Football Closes. In his column for the Guardian, James Richardson reported an “authentic ambush” on the police planned and coordinated by Catania Ultras. Italian football was reeling. The Calciopoli scandal in 2006 had revealed a dark under belly but this was something altogether more sinister. Il Calcio had been plunged into the global spotlight and sanctions were swift. Games were immediately postponed and although Serie A returned the following week radical changes were afoot.

Italy’s football chief Luca Pancalli stated “What we’re witnessing has nothing to do with soccer… Without drastic measures, we cannot play again”. The football stadia act, also known as the Pisanu decree involved a draconian clamp down. Teams whose grounds weren’t up to code (this being the majority across Italian leagues) were forced to play behind closed doors. A ban was placed on pyrotechnics and the sale of block tickets to away supporters. Financial relationships between clubs and fan associations were prohibited. Catania were forced to play the remainder of their games at a neutral venue and behind closed doors. The Stadio Massimino underwent major work to meet the newly introduced safety measures and did not re-open to fans until September 2, 2007 when Catania hosted Genoa. A minutes silence was observed for Filippo Raciti.

The events in 2007 encapsulate the disturbing side of Ultra culture. A continuation of strict measures such as the Tessera del Tifoso (supporters ID card) has at times threatened their very existence. However while the Catania’s Ultras will forever be synonymous with the tragic death of officer Raciti their loyalty and passion was fundamental in leading Catania Calcio to the summit of Italian football.

Over the years the Stadio Massimino has seen a number of Ultra groups take eminence on both Curve. Two of Catania’s more renowned groups are Falange d’Assalto Rossazzurra (Red and Blue Assault Phalanx) and Primo Amore (First Love) later renamed Irriducibili (Unbreakables). Falange (formed in 1979) were Catania’s first Ultra group and resided in the Curva Nord. Their incursion saw the birth of other groups such as Onda d’Urto (shockwave) and Giovani Rossoazzurri (Young red and blues), the latter’s members moved to the Curva Sud and in 1991 founded the Irriducibili. In Catania’s case it seems the habitual internal divisions were exemplified in the varying degrees of prominence enjoyed by both Curve. While the Curva Sud was the heartbeat of the stadium during the late 90’s, the Nord remains one of the most atmospheric in Italy today and its effervescence is said to be the reason Catania Calcio remains one of the biggest clubs in Sicily.

In 1993 Catania Calcio was a perennial struggler and their financial problems had seen them relegated to Eccellenza (The 6th tier of Italian football). Franco Proto, president of Atletico Leonzio, a team from Lentini (just 20 miles from Catania) sought to take advantage of this situation by moving Leonzio and forming Atletico Catania. However the Catania fans rejected this team preferring to stay faithful to their beloved Rossoazzura. New recruits grew through the lower leagues and they formed the group ‘A Sostegno di una fede’ (In Support of a faith). Despite languishing in the depths of despair Catania’s following was ever-present and the Curva Nord was alive with an array of flags, banners and colourful smoke effects.

When it comes to rivalries Catania – Palermo is as fierce as they come. Messina, another prominent Sicilian club come a close second. Other noteworthy enemies include Catanazaro, Taranto (especially for their blasphemous chants insulting Catania’s patron saint – Agatha), Reggina, Salernitana, Avellino and Siracusa. Catania’s Ultras have good relations with Crotone and Trapani, the latter being based on common hatred of Palermo.

Catania is a city which lies in the shadow of the imposing Volcano Mount Etna or in local tongue ‘A Muntagna’. Remarkably following its eruption in the 17th century one of the materials used to rebuild the city was lava. The volcanic stoned pavements are a constant reminder of the cities tragic but explosive past and while the picturesque Stadio Massimino has often produced beautiful match day choreography it’s Ultras are as volatile and eruptive as their volcanic neighbour.

As always you can find these articles on Richard Hall’s website –  The Gentleman Ultra.

You can also follow Myself – @LH_Ramon25 and Richard – @Gentleman_Ultra on twitter.

Thinking of visiting Catania? Check out travel expert Max Barnard’s guide to the top 10 places to visit in Italy.

 

02/7/14

Random Rambles Part I: Bayern’s Trendsetters and Sochi Grievances

So Nicholas Anelka is awaiting the result of his appeal against the FA’s decision to ban him for his quenelle gesture, Brazilian protesters are still threatening to crash this summer’s world cup fiesta, Bayern Munich fans demonstrated a forward thinking approach to homosexuality in football and the Sochi Winter Olympics are upon us and the maelstrom surrounding the games only seems to be worsening. You can add stray dogs and journalists to the list of groups who feel a sense of injustice.

Over the next few days I will be posting my thoughts on the aforementioned issues starting with Bayern’s forward thinking fans and Sochi’s growing list of grievances.

“Football is everything, including gay”

As I have frequently mentioned football has an omnipotence to mobilise change and last Sunday’s game between Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt demonstrated a refreshing facet of this. During the match the supporters of Bayern Munich unveiled a banner that read “Fußball ist alles, auch schwul” (Football is everything, including gay). Football clubs often involve themselves in campaigns tackling social discrimination, whether it be racism, sexism or homosexuality however what was so refreshing about this incident was seeing the fans take the initiative.

Bayern Munich fans unveil banner reading "Football is everything including gay" (Photo from http://suedkurve-muenchen.org/wp-content/gallery/fc-bayern-eintracht-frankfurt-02-02-2014/30.jpg%5D)

Bayern Munich fans unveil banner reading “Football is everything including gay” (Photo from http://suedkurve-muenchen.org/wp-content/gallery/fc-bayern-eintracht-frankfurt-02-02-2014/30.jpg%5D)

At times maligned and frowned upon, some football supporters (especially the more stalwart and passionate elements) have come in for criticism regarding their behavior and attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality. This is often justified and on occasions discrimination has plagued the stands of football stadia. Yet given the power and sway some of these fan groups hold, if they can transmit forward thinking and positive ideals to a global audience then the social significance of this should not be underestimated.

The Bavarian club’s supporters message was simple and hopefully it takes hold across the world. Just like anything, your sexuality should not be an issue and recently the archaic dogmas surrounding homosexuality within football are being challenged. From Robbie Rogers being an openly gay player in the MLS, to Thomas Hitzlsperger coming out and becoming the highest profile name to talk about his sexuality within football, the Bayern banner constitutes another step forward. There is a long journey ahead before we can render the game so many of us hold dear as all-inclusive but recent events represent progress.

It is worth noting the Bayern supporters also organised an impressive choreography dedicated to their former president Kurt Landauer, a Jew who was persecuted during the Nazi regime. So hats off to the supporters of Bayern Munich for jettisoning the old and exhibiting a forward thinking approach. Lets hope others take heed.

The grievances pile up at the Sochi Olympics.

Just a line on the Sochi Winter Olympics, which are now officially under way. Vladimir Putin and the Russian government could do with taking a leaf out of the Bayern supporters books.

The Olympics is a celebration of ‘sporting civility’ which includes such principles as ‘democracy, internationalism, equal rights and civic education’. That the Winter Games are being held in Russia, a country which in 2013 signed a statute criminalising support for ‘non-traditional’ relationships’ is questionable to say the least. Although the Russian government have insisted the law doesn’t forbid homosexuality, but merely prevents dissemination of gay ‘propaganda’ among those under eighteen, the issue has become a hot bed of controversy.

LBGT supporters take to the streets to protests against the Sochi Olympics. (Photo from www.businessweek.com)

LBGT supporters take to the streets to protests against the Sochi Olympics. (Photo from www.businessweek.com)

Gay and liberal activists across the world have expressed their outrage at this obsolete law, which if breached can incur penalties from fines to jail sentences and for foreigners even deportation. More worryingly the president of the Russian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Sports Federation, Konstantin Yablotsiky, has claimed that the law has to an extent legalised neo-Fascist anti-gay groups to become more active, with violent attacks on LGBT protesters a common occurrence.

The astronomical cost of the games (the most expensive in history) has also led to widespread discontent among Sochi residents and the allegations of corruption and environmental damage aimed at those who constructed the Olympic village has further damaged the hosts reputation before the games have even begun. Furthermore there remains a major concern over security at the Olympics with the threat of terrorist attacks ever-present. Add this to the latest developments which has seen a mass culling of stray dogs and journalists having been left without suitable accommodation and it becomes hard to make one water tight case for why Sochi should be hosting an Olympic games.

The ignominious law regarding gay rights and the numerous blunders cannot be readily altered. But sport can act as a catalyst for change and this may be the one saving grace. Using the words of New Zealander Blake Skejellerup, a gay speed skater who came out after competing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics:

“Sochi gives us an opportunity to highlight Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws and say: this is wrong. Don’t underestimate how powerful that could be.”

Unfortunately Skejellerup narrowly missed out on qualification for Sochi however he is right, if anything at all the 2014 Winter Olympics constitute a possibility for progress, not just in Russia, but across the globe.