By Paul Deeney:
Football Ultras are a common sight on the continent and across Europe; many are demonised by the media in their respective countries. With Scottish Football arguably at an all time low surely the ultras in Scotland should be embraced and encouraged to express the colour and vibrancy that they bring to the game?
First off people in Scotland need educated on the ‘ultra Scene’, the perception of the word ‘Ultra’ is all wrong in this country. There is a tendency to throw ultras and hooligans into the same bag; they are not the same thing.
The definition of Ultras is, “A type of sports fan renowned for their fanatical and elaborate displays of support.” So why are these football fans at the centre of many controversial issues? Are they targeted by the authorities? Or are they merely a bunch of rowdy kids looking to cause trouble?
Being an ultra in Scotland is a fairly new craze when compared to other European countries such as Italy, Germany and France who can boast a vast history of Ultra groups. The first group in the UK was the ’Red Ultras’ of Aberdeen FC who where founded in 1999 with the aim of improving the atmosphere at Pittodrie. Sadly due to constant harassment from the authorities the decision was made to disband at the end of the 2010 season.
Since then groups in Scotland, most notably the ‘Green Brigade’ at Celtic FC, The ‘Union Bears’ at Rangers and ‘The Well Boys’ at Motherwell among others have formed with the same common aim of improving flat atmospheres in their respective grounds. Though have all been met with the same hostile reception from Police and stewards, but is this been warranted or are these fans being criminalised?
Smoke bombs and flares?
This is one of the most controversial talking points surrounding ultras and one that splits opinion. Joe O’Rourke General Secretary of The Celtic Supporters Association says: “I don’t condone or encourage the use of smoke bombs and flares. Although it make a visual impact at matches, I believe the problems for our older fans, especially those with breathing problems, far outlays that. I have a mate who goes to every match who has asthma, the smoke from those devices cause him real problems. The worst case scenario would one of our fans losing his or her life because of smoke inhalation.”
This is an opinion that police tend to agree with as the numbers of Police sniffer dogs at games have been increasing in recent years.
Probably the biggest issue the authorities and government have with all football fans in Scotland is the songs they sing. Clearly fans have a different opinion to the government on what is offensive and worthy of a prison sentence.
Joe O’Rourke said: “Fans all over Europe show and chant political slogans, but they don’t have Strathclyde’s finest to deal with. Juan or Manuel doesn’t report the Bilbao fans to the local Inspector or to UEFA for that matter.
"I have a bit of mixed feelings about it. I believe as long as it is not extremely offensive it should be okay, but as with some of our songs, should the question be, is it appropriate? Not, is it illegal or illicit?
Standing at matches?
Most of these groups more notably ‘The Green Brigade’ and ‘The Union Bears/Blue Order’ have their own section of the ground where everyone will stand. According to the police and the safety team they are a Health and Safety hazard. According to the fans it's a necessary means of creating atmosphere.
I am a big fan of the Ultra’s, but unfortunately I don’t think the Police or Safety Committees are. We have managed to make some progress with meetings at Celtic Park regarding section 111, but there is still the problem with lateral movement, and I believe that’s why Celtic are looking at introducing SSA in that section. I think the Ultra’s need to police their own section as best they can; they should have their own easily recognised marshal’s to control the section. I think with the right good will on both sides we could come to some agreement.
So is it now time to introduce Safe Standing?
“I would be in favour of safe standing areas in football stadiums," said O'Rourke. "I believe that the atmosphere generated at matches is both visual and vocal. The displaying of banners at matches also needs to be done in a standing position. Fans spend lots of time at present standing, especially at away grounds.”
My view is that ultra groups in Scotland are the last in a dying breed of die hard Scottish Football fans. They should be nurtured and allowed to grow and flourish. If these fanatics are driven away from our game it could well be the beginning of the end for the Scottish game. The fans are the life and soul of our game and if our governing bodies don’t start listening to them they will go away.
“Football without fans is nothing.” Jock Stein.