Tuesday, 13 November 2007

an ultra's message

Here is the text of a message stuck up in the piazza outside Gabriele Sandri's funeral vigil today by an AS Roma ultra, alongside a red and yellow scarf. I think it is quite interesting in a number of ways.

Every ultra is different. There are those who only active with a group and those who make up a group for themselves. Ultras are all different but they are all united by their love for their own team, their determination to endure for over 90 minutes on their feet despite the rain and the cold, they are united by the warming effect of a chant sung out at the top of their voices. They are united by the security of the friend who sleeps at their side on the train taking you home from an away game, by the swaggering walk through a rival city, by the joy of setting off on an away trip and the tiredness of the return home. They are united by that shared sandwich after hours of hunger, by that cigarette offered on the train and repaid in the stand, by that argument about the left winger on the bench shared in the gloom of a night train. They are united by a mentality.

The things which unite us simultaneously divide us from the outside world, they separate us from worried parents, scandalised uncles, frightened classmates or disgusted teachers. Ultras are the exception to the rules, the unexpected which surprises you, the surprise which wipes the smile from your face when you thought you'd got away with it. Ultras are also the arm which pulls you up onto the truck before they shut the doors. Ultras are all this and more, many more emotions which can't be put into words.

Ciao Gabriele

A boy from the Sud

This is a fairly typical expression of ultra identity, in my experience. You may find it naive or disingenuous, which is fair enough. I would point out a few things. Firstly, the rather romantic and nostalgic appeal of, in particular, away games: I think many long-term travelling fans in all countries would be able to identify with these particular sentiments. Dedication, discomfort, companionship, chatter, long hours and hard cash spent following your team in good times and in bad, when the result doesn't really matter, so long as you were there.

The other thing worth highlighting is the sense of shared identity vs the outside world, that ultras share more with one another even across the Roma-Lazio divide - or any other you care to name - than they do with society at large. This is both self-conscious rejection and imposed exclusion. And this I think is not such a universal and widespread phenomenon as my first point. It is here that the social and political dimensions of the ultra movement begin to open up into problematic areas, and where clearly the potential for political manipulation by extremists enters the picture.

As for violence: I think it's clear to see where it can follow on easily from a statement like the above. But it's not intrinsic. Bear in mind that however disgusting the scenes on Sunday, there are an estimated 70,000 ultras minimum across Italy: those rioting were a very small minority. If the ultras movement is to survive in any recognisable form in this country, and maintain the passion and excitement which so enliven Italian football, that minority needs to be repudiated and isolated as soon as possible. I keep assuring people that the majority of ultras are fanatical, sure, but fundamentally decent, non-violent people. So let's see some of that, please.


de vertalerin said...

As I said in a comment on Brian's (excellent) blog, solidarity and a sense of belonging are precious experiences in a fractured society. And those are the things that lad is describing.

Of course there is plenty of scope for things to turn sour under adverse circumstances. Show me a movement which brings together large numbers of young males that doesn't. But as a society we never focus on the positives of such experiences.

patcook said...

If they have such a strong sense of solidarity and belonging than they should feel responsible for each others behaviour.
The 'decent ones' should betaking responsibility for the hooligans and pull them in to line or expel them.
I dont think you should be able to identify as an ultra and then wash your hands of any of the actions of those you identify with.

de vertalerin said...

I'm sorry, Pat, I'm not quite sure what, exactly, decent ultras could expel the violent from. Nor can they take responsibility for other people' actions, unless the 'decent' are actively, but covertly, inciting them to it.

There is a bit of a discussion on Brian's blog - following his posting on this affair - about the role of sport in the 'civilising process' which would put what I said into more context. I don't want to repeat the whole thing here, but the piece quoted by Spangles fits into that discussion quite interestingly.

Spangly Princess said...

Antonio G., of Gramsci's Kingdom, has very interestingly pointed out a comparison to 9/11 and the Muslim community.

When a small number of people commit an outrage in the name of a larger a group, what is that larger group to do?

Yes they need to repudiate the action, isolate the offenders and demonstrate that they are not complicit.

No they are not responsible for other people's behaviour. When are we ever responsible for other people's behaviour (unless they are children).

One of the issues here is over what being an ultra means. Why should the views of some - who believe the mentalità ultra entails violence - mean that others - who don't - have to take responsibility for violence?

As for "expel", as De V says: expel from what? you can be expelled from a specific group. You can't be expelled from a movement. It's like asking goths or punks to "expel" their fellows - intrinsically meaningless. Ah yes - if a pair of goths go on a shooting rampage, are other people who identify as goth responsible too?

TrentToffee said...

...well said Pat I entirely agree. And yes it is possible to expel people from a group. If you *try*.

As for the this particular ultra's message. It's just a load of "romantic and nostalgic" claptrap. This particularly sad fucker should get a bit of a life outside of football. Maybe leave home, find a girlfriend, take a walk in the dolomites, etc.

And as for Ultra's being a "movement", well, I thought they were just a bunch of football fans. I'm sorry Spangles but I just don't get it. So much bullshit, so many excuses.

This probably explains why most of my Italian colleagues have little or no interest in football. They prefer motor sports (F1, Ferrari, Valentino Rossi, etc). But they are, on the whole, pretty balanced individuals. And some of the sharpest minds I know.

Chelsea Boy said...

You could probably ask those sharp minds what they are doing being fans of sports that are essentially mechanical willy waving contests with the added bonus of dumping a delightful amount of c02 into the atmosphere.

Next you'll be telling us hip hop isn't a movement or culture, but 'just some blokes in caps who playing other people's music.'

de vertalerin said...

To be fair to this particular fan, we don't know whether or not he has a flat or a girl friend or a fondness for mountains; he could well have all three. And, you know, that message is a distinctly articulate and vivid piece of writing.

All we know is the emotional and cultural meanings which his fan experiences have for him. And I don't think dismissing those is useful. Instead we might ask some questions about why they are so significant in his life (and "because he's a sad fucker" doesn't get us very far); or why his engagement with these values arouses such hostility.

Of course mob violence is completely unacceptable. I'm not saying it is, not for one moment. But as Spangles says, that's not intrinsic. As to how the majority can best repudiate the minority, that poses a practical difficulty - because there is no legitimate means of expression. Maybe a striscione condemning violence... no, wait, that would probably be illegal, wouldn't it?

ursus arctos said...

Well said.

And I would add that at least to me the fact that more than a thousand ultras from all over the country just completed a march through the capital following Sandri's funeral without a single incident of violence is in itself a very eloquent means of expression.

TrentToffee said...

I can't explain to you why some people prefer motor sports, that's their business. As for the definition of hip-hop, it's better than my effort :o)

It's this whole outpouring of grief (and anger) that I can't understand. It's like the princess Di thing. Collective madness descends. The bloke (who happened to be on his way to a football match) was shot at a motorway service station by a cop who drew his sidearm for (what appears) no good reason. A tragedy. And that's it. It's the group hug thing that follows that I don't get. But then, I am getting on a bit :o)

Perhaps I am being a bit disingenuous to this ultra fella, but if he's not yet into his early 30's then it's highly likely that he still lives in the parental home. Nothing wrong with that, for him, but it is for the rest of Italy.

Let us agree to disagree.

chelsea boy said...

If you don't think that sort of thing would happen here if a fan was shot dead by a policeman you're very much mistaken.

Spangly Princess said...

Someone just asked me why so many people would turn out for the funeral of a man they didn't know, simply because they were ultras.

I think it's like that british biker who was murdered on the M40 earlier this year: hundreds of Harley's Angels and other bikers turned out to pay their final respects to one of their own, even though most of them didn't know him in person.

This isn't really like Princess Di. What did those people on the Mall have in common with her? did they have shared values, a shared lifestyle?

This is more than 'just a bunch of football fans', TT. For all sorts of reasons. Everyone in Italy would agree that they are qualitatively different from your average fun, whether they approve or disapprove of ultras. If you don't like the word movement, try sub-culture.

I whole-heartedly agree that the non-violent, decent parts of the ultra world need to stand up & be counted. They need to stake their claim in what is becoming a debate over what it is to be an ultra, and how that can be legitimate. Because there can be no excuse for mob violence, whatever the provocation.

But that is a far cry for making them responsible for other people's misconduct.

Jon said...

I support a club without any significant reputation for trouble... quite the opposite in fact, and our reputation in this sense means I can usually walk happily into a pub at an away game and drink and mix with the home fans, just as visitors to our club can come and have a beer with us But we have an element of troublemakers, and it's getting bigger.

We can't stop them coming. The rest of us are by-and-large peaceful people, and the idiots we have to put up with are people far more inclined to use violence.

The best thing we can do is continue to make friends, suprise, make people laugh, whatever. We can scorn with words, criticise with words in public and private, but we can't stop undesirable people coming. We could name names to the police but they know them anyway, and that more than anything brings us closer to a violent reaction.

I despise them, but I count myself lucky they're so insignificant to me.

Anonymous said...

I've not read the above comments in full, but I agree with what I have taken from what trenttoffee and Chelsea Boy have said.

Being an ultra is about being an ultra. Nothing else. It just so happens that it takes place at football matches.

It would be a great step forward if ultras were banned.

- Juventino

Brian said...

I'm generally in agreement with the idea that it would be a mistake to blame the non-violent majority of ultras for the crimes of the violent few. I don't see how "bad" ultras could be meaningfully expelled from the ultra subculture, and to say that the "decent" ultras are implicated in their crimes borders on the absurd to me. I like ice cream. So did the Yorkshire Ripper.

Just to complicate the question, though, I want to take up a point de Vertalerin made earlier (is it possible that the 'decent' are actively but covertly inciting the others to violence) and ask whether it's possible that attributes of the ultra subculture itself act as incitements to violence. I recognize that not all ultras subscribe to a fascist politics (or to any form of political extremism), but it does seem that there's a widespread diffusion of beliefs which offer justification and encouragement for violent behavior. The Roman salutes, the SS tattoos, and so on, are presumably in use by ultras most of whom are not personally or habitually violent. But there's something about having a swastika tattooed on your neck that seems so implicitly condoning of certain kinds of violence, so affiliated with violence, that it's hard to congratulate ultras of this sort for simply marching peaceably at Sandri's funeral.

I have no idea how widespread this sort of political symbolism is among the ultras, or if it could reasonably be said to constitute an essential part of their subcultural identity. But in a more general sense, this does appear to be a subculture whose self-presentation seems largely designed to suggest danger, volatility, and physical intimidation. It's obviously the case (as the hip-hop comparison earlier implied) that this kind of projection suggests frightened young men looking for self-esteem and a sense of belonging more often than it suggests an actual desire to do harm. But it's also the case that even the "decent" ultras are adopting signs that point to violence; we aren't talking about a few nutcases in a group of otherwise outwardly friendly and positive fans.

I could go on (de Vertalerin, I did mean to get to the question of the civilizing process in sports and how it seems to be working or not working for the ultras!) but this comment is too long already. Again, this is just speculation; I don't know what I make of it all, and don't have enough experience of ultras to reach a conclusion. But for those who know more than I do: is it possible that the "indecent" aspects of the ultra subculture are widespread enough that they present an implicit incitement to violence? Can the "decent" majority of ultras really repudiate the actions of the violent few?