Kieran Knowles discusses the possibility of an Ultras movement in the Non Leagues.
On the 22nd of April this year the match between Genoa and Siena was famously held up after a group of the home club’s Ultra supporters, irate at their teams abject performance, began to throw objects onto the pitch. With Genoa trailing 4-0 the fans imprisoned the team on the field by blocking their entrance to the tunnel and, once the referee had suspended play, demanded the Genoa players remove their shirts and hand them over as they felt them not fit to wear them. Most players complied and it took the negotiating skills of midfielder Giuseppe Sculli to get the shirts returned so play could continue.
On the 2nd of July this year on the message-board of an unofficial Macclesfield Town website a few of the clubs Ultra supporters debated, in the language of excitable children, whether or not they would be sneaking a flare into the Stockport County ground during the Silkmens away fixture there this coming Tuesday.
In the late 1960’s Italian clubs Sampdoria and Torino were amongst the first to use the label with the creation of their ‘Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni’ and ‘Ultras Granata’ groups. During the 1970’s the movement spread across Italy as more Ultra groups were born and their influence within their parent club increased. By the 80’s and 90’s the movement had started to spread out across Europe into countries such as Germany and the Netherlands and the power wielded by such groups meant they could negotiate cheaper tickets and early access into the stadiums in order to prepare their displays.
By the 2000’s Ultra supporters groups were predominant at major clubs across Europe with a vocal minority having ties amongst hooliganism and a preference shown towards largely right-wing ideologies.
In Britain the emergence of Ultra groups seems to be a phenomena almost exclusive to clubs further down the football chain. The likes of York, Oxford, Aldershot, and even Barrow have all formed their own versions amongst their support that, in fairness, tend to stress the rejection of racism and violence and instead aim to promote the dedication and commitment of cheering on their side regardless of how well the team are doing.
Those behind the Ultra movement at Macclesfield may well innocently (and for the most part correctly) argue that theirs is a much needed attempt at improving the atmosphere at a ground that is hardly renowned for a fearsome Welcome-To-Hell style reception for away teams but that is also to naively ignore the fact that once you align yourself under the banner of the Ultras you also can’t help but take on the baggage of crimes committed under that name in the past. Claiming otherwise is a bit like being Kula Shaker and trying to reclaim the swastika as an ancient Indian symbol or thinking it’s okay to perform at a Madness gig whilst draped in a Union Jack and singing a song called The National Front Disco in front of a bunch of skinheads.
The title ‘Ultra’, unfairly or not, is tainted by associations with facism and violence and the usage of that name by the supporters of a club from a market town in Cheshire whose attendance rarely exceeds two thousand and whose nickname is the hardly terrifying ‘Silkmen’ is going to be seen amongst the cynical as the cringe-worthy piggybacking of the reputation of a notorious type of fan group in order to feel important amongst the small pond of lower/non league football support.
It hardly helps that a lot of the fans in question are teenagers who, judging by the often illiterate comments left on supporter messageboards, give the impression of a bunch of lads who have grown up watching Danny Dyer ‘World’s Toughest Soccer Mum’ style documentaries and lends a faintly amusing ‘Bugsy Malone does Green Street’ air to proceedings.
For all the talk about not being hooligans they almost gleefully indulge in the language of John King novels – “it’s not are fault there after us thinking we are a firm” is a quote from one of the posts, best imagined as read in the voice of Billy Casper – and the constant attempt to goad Stockport County supporters into an imagined rivalry has the whiff of a desperate youth attempting to woo a girl way out of his league at a school disco (sure Stockport have hit hard times recently but it wasn’t too long ago that they were one league below the top flight whilst we were singing songs about hating Altincham.. and to continue my analogy Lindsay Lohan hasn’t had the easiest of times recently too but I still wouldn’t fancy my chances).
There is no denying that what Macclesfield, or indeed any club further down the football pyramid who struggle for numbers, need at home games is an atmosphere of passion – complete with banners, vocal support for the squad, and witty digs aimed at the opposing players and fans. However surely this can all be achieved without the embarrassing flirtation with a predominantly European phenomena that makes far more sense within the seething-cauldron likes of the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium than it does the genteel and sparcely populated likes of the Moss Rose?
A rebrand of the name is in order if it is to work for the likes of Macclesfield Town I think. How about the ‘Moderates’ or the ‘Milds’? Seems far more appropriate to me