Atmosphere at football is often seen as a defining aspect of a club’s identity; the rapturous nature of the Kop at Anfield, Old Trafford’s Stretford End and the Holte End at Villa Park are all enshrined in club folklore, exemplifying their character, unity and originality. However, with the introduction of all-seater stadia, the squeezing out of fans of a low income and the notable sanitation of British football grounds, atmosphere has markedly suffered as a result.

Subsequently, there has in recent years been a up-swell of enthusiasm for the recapturing of what is a quintessential part of being a football fan. The seductive bluster of a feverish crowd in full voice is what first attracts many to the game in the first place – without atmosphere, we risk being pulled into an American-style form of spectatorship, devoid of passion but bristling with superficial theatrics.

With this prospect all too apparent, the emergence of various ‘Ultra’ groups have become a prominent feature of many British clubs, emulating the Italian model of groups established with the intention of improving atmosphere at grounds. Often misconceived to be associated with racism and violence, whereas in reality only a small percentage of groups or members are politically motivated or harbour extremist views. This association, however, is hard to shake off; as a result, many are unwilling to embrace the idea of Ultras in UK grounds. If they were able to extend their perspective beyond narrow fallacy, they would see a group of like-minded people who are bringing colour, noise, passion and intensity back into football.

Perhaps the first group to emerge were Aberdeen’s Red Army in 1999, and since then many supporters have followed suit in establishing Ultras sections at their club. Following some years later, Celtic’s Green Brigade have established themselves as one of the most visible entities of the Celtic matchday experience. Declaring themselves as ‘anti-fascist, anti-racist and anti-sectarian’, the group were recently heralded my manager Neil Lennon and despite occasionally courting controversy, remain a gratifying example of the Ultra model.

In the lower leagues of English football particularly, we have seen an exceptional increase in Ultra activity: supporters of Aldershot, York, Accrington, Oxford and Crystal Palace in particular have made great effort to improve matchday atmosphere, often partaking in mass sychronised displays of banners, giant flags and smoke bombs alike as well as generating noise seldom seen in many English grounds, both at home and away.

Taking increasing influence from the South American model of exhibitionist ‘tifos’, British ultras are bringing much needed vibrancy to our stadiums, often injecting new life into the soulless, duplicate arenas that many grounds have now become. Regulations, however, have made the functioning of Ultras groups progressively more difficult: many clubs now forbid flags or banners on draconian Health and Safety grounds, whilst the stigma attached to the term means many clubs are reluctant to engage with groups in fear of being tarnished. As thus, the co-ordination of displays is made discernibly more troublesome and groups are unable to develop positive relationships with their club, at the detriment of both parties.

Interestingly, there is a growing verve for Ultra activity higher up the ladder, as supporters grow weary of the commercialised, desolate demeanour which characterises many top flight grounds. At times, nowhere was as desolate than Villa Park this season – yet Brigada 1874, of permanent residence in the corner of the Holte End, have made resolute efforts infuse a greater sense of positivity and partisanship to Aston Villa. Likewise, supporters of cross-city rivals Birmingham City are using the recently established Forza Blues group as a means of reigniting passions at St Andrews.

Though making significant progress in the moulding of negative perceptions, Ultras groups still remain on the fringes of the football world in the UK, something which must be altered if the decline of atmosphere at British grounds is to be halted. Too often tarred with the hooligan brush, the limited vision of authorities, clubs and commanding figures is prohibiting the rightful spread Ultra culture, as archaic assumptions prevail before reasoned judgement.

Increased co-operation between clubs and groups does mark notable improvements, yet more needs to be done to promote assimilation of Ultras into mainstream British footballing culture in order to prevent our grounds falling further into the stagnant, stale and passive quagmire.

You can follow me @acherrie1 for discussion on this or any other topic

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  • megson1982
    3 years ago

    “The rapturous nature of the Holte End” Are you taking the mickey? You won’t hear a peep from them at a Villa game, as much as it pains me to admit that.

    Reply
  • jockybhoy
    3 years ago

    Celtic’s Green Brigade will be there for generations to come…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq2J146riTI

    Glagow’s now Green & Whyte…

    Reply
  • Konga
    3 years ago

    Megson I’m guessing the writer of this artical was on about when the holte end was standing !! It’s just gone down hill every year since its been seating

    Reply
  • KevinBarry
    3 years ago

    Celtic park was becoming so boring before the green brigade. The atmosphere is amazing again. Can’t wait for this seasons European nights.

    Reply
  • Andrew Cherrie
    3 years ago

    Indeed, perhaps not in the last few years but historically the Holte is know for being one of the more intimidating ends in English football.

    Reply
    • MJB
      3 years ago

      So being intimidating is a good thing for the sport?

      Reply
  • PrairieBhoy (Chicago)
    3 years ago

    British Ultras? Where are there true Ultras in the UK?

    Organized fan groups in the UK are nothing like Ultra groups in South America or Italy which can be down right deadly.

    As for intimidating, if the team on the field isn’t intimidating than the fan group won’t be either.Going on about the distant past for a team like Villa only shows how far off they have fallen as a vocal fan base. Only 2-3 yers ago they looked to be revitalized.

    As for the Green Brigade, the singing is great but my favorite thing are the banners. Funny and sarchastic at the same time. The 4 horsemen one at the last OF match will live on in memory for years

    Reply
  • Murph
    3 years ago

    Watched Panorama last night with Polish and Ukranian ‘ultras’. Nothing but pond-life, all of them. Brain-dead, nazi, sub-human, anti-semetic, racist white supremists: but, hey, they bring a good atmosphere to the game don’t they??!! The bastards have even stolen our Celtic cross as a nazi symbol. They even attack their own fans if they are Asian and the police and stewards do nothing. Ultra is just another name for nazi.

    Reply
    • Andrew Cherrie
      3 years ago

      The Ultras you see here are a far different breed. Those in the UK represent inclusiveness, with all backgrounds, races and creeds encouraged. Most Ultra groups in Britain have no political preference, or are slightly left leaning. They take the positive aspects of foreign groups – the colour, the noise, the passion – and discount the negative facets. They are not interested in violence, and are often at the forefront of anti-discriminatory campaigns. Do not confuse the two.

      Reply
  • Andrew Cherrie
    3 years ago

    For a more accurate representation of what they’re attempting to do, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gkqL0I20sI&feature=related

    Reply
  • Pierce
    2 years ago

    Really nice to read the blog and understand the moaiittvon behind the madness . I started running last year and i can relate to the joy of pushing yourself to the limit, succeeding and then going further. Hope to see more videos and read more entries soon.

    Reply