Italian Football: Ultra Violence?

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Football team lifting trophy

AC Milan lifting the European Cup after winning the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League

If there are two subjects on which Italians are united with passion, its food and football.

The latter was the theme of Dr Mark Doidge’s lecture, ‘Napoli Cholera’, held at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). The lecture, hosted by MMU’s Centre for the Study of Football and its Communities (CSFC), specifically focussed on the obsessive Italian football fans ‘Ultras’.

British football fans could be forgiven for thinking Italian Ultras are merely unorganised hooligans, a false analogy inaugurated by the press. Violent? Often. Unorganised? Definitely not. Dr Doidge, of the University of Brighton, discussed the history of the Ultras and explained how they are much more socially and politically complex than that.

Each Ultra group tends to have their own ideologies separate from football, for example the Ultras of Lazio hold fascist beliefs. The lectures title, ‘Napoli Cholera’, stemmed from a slogan displayed on a banner at a football ground in Italy. Napoli Cholera is an abusive term intended to insult fans from Napoli. It echoes the anti-southern, often racist beliefs of fans from the north.

Abusive and racist behaviour from Ultras is not a new phenomenon, but that is not what inspired the lecture. What is interesting about the banner was that it was displayed by the Napoli fans themselves. They displayed it as a protest against State and police censorship of other Ultras. Dr Mark Doidge argues that the Ultras, despite their rivalries, are uniting for social change.

Dr Mark Doidge at a football match

Dr Mark Doidge

“On one hand you have coherent groups of football fans from the 1970s formulating around a particular club and ideals; they fragment and focus on violence. However, what I would like to argue is actually against that fragmentation. What’s happening is they’re starting to coalesce as a movement. The Ultras are working together.”

The Ultras exemplify the passion and power of the fan, not just in football but in society as a whole. The Italian Ultras have been trendsetters in supporter-led campaigns on a range of subjects, one of which is the commercialisation of modern football. They’re rebellious efforts have spread throughout Europe, resulting in campaigns in this country such as Stand Against Modern Football in this country.

In the question and answer session after the talk I asked whether there is an equivalent of Ultras in our own county.

“A number of countries now have their own Ultra groups. What’s interesting about England is Ultras are emerging. Crystal Palace have an Ultras group, Plymouth have tried to start an Ultras group. To be honest they tend to just be taking the paraphernalia, the flags, the choreographies, in a commercialised way to give the portrayal of a great atmosphere. Part of the problem the authorities have is that the Ultras do create a great atmosphere. That’s what got me interested in Italian football. English Ultras are independent of the political aspects that occur with Italian Ultras.”

Flares and fans at a football matchThis summer will see the world cup kick off in Brazil, another country whose heart beats to the drum of the beautiful game. The pinnacle of international football often results in an eruption of celebration, patriotism and often violence. In previous world cups, it’s been us, the English, who have been perceived to be the troublemakers. I asked whether the passion of the ultras, fuelled by the rising sense of national pride, could lead to a national Italian Ultra group.

“The Italian Ultras are very different from the British hooligans. They don’t seem to join together in the same way at International level. There is an Ultra group associated with the national team- a right wing racist one. They’re a very small and ideological group that are just using the national team to push their own beliefs. The sense of national identity is not strong in Italy. Italians only talk about Italy when discussing football and food.”

The next event hosted by MMU’s CSFC seminar series is the Football & Communities of Resistance 2014 Conference, held at the National Football Museum on 12th & 13th June.

George Norris is a third year MMU student studying Criminology & Sociology who aspires to become a writer. Torn between two cities, George spends half his time in Leeds, and half his time in Manchester. He is as northern as killing your brothers kestrel. Follow him on Twitter.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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