11 of the most chaotic ultra groups in football: Ajax, Marseille…
While football fan culture in the UK is impressive in its own way, it’s taken to another level in the rest of Europe and in South America with clubs having their own, dedicated groups known as ‘ultras’.
It starts with being allowed beer on the terraces and ends with full-blown firework displays in the stands at friendly games and these groups of fans having significant say on how their club conducts itself, from transfers to just about anything else you could imagine.
If they don’t like something, they’ll let the club know.
We’ve seen that manifest itself at PSG and Inter in recent weeks. PSG ultras threatened to cut off the fingers of Dusan Vlahovic if he signed for the club, while Inter ultras have launched a smear campaign on Romelu Lukaku that you could probably produce theatre on, it’s that serious.
It’s got us thinking about ultras culture in general, and the most chaotic sets of them in football.
The Netherlands is famed for its illustrious history of shaping how the beautiful game is played and for birthing some of the greatest players to ever kick a ball. Ajax are best associated with that, and have a tremendous culture around the club as a result.
So when standards slip, their most hardcore fans aren’t scared to let the club know about it. Ajax fans are always passionate, but their most hardcore ultra groups often take that passion to another level and have done again recently.
It’s seemingly all been downhill since the club lost Erik ten Hag to Manchester United. After a terrible 2022-23 campaign, the 2023-24 season has started in similar fashion. Ajax found themselves 3-0 down at home in their derby clash with Feyenoord in the first half before ultras got the game suspended and eventually abandoned, with the group then trying to break into the stadium in various areas in an extreme show of dissatisfaction with the way the club is being run.
— DanielsenAxedal (@DanielsenAxedal) September 24, 2023
Founded in 1953, Dynamo Dresden dominated East German football before the country’s reunification and the subsequent formation of the Bundesliga, but have fallen away from the German top-flight in the time since.
That hasn’t stopped them from developing and maintaining one of the most committed and fierce fan cultures in the world, though, with the ‘Ultras Dynamo’ a section of that fanbase.
Notable for their aggression and extremism, Dresden’s ultras are typically associated with far-right political ideology when they’re not setting off flares and fireworks in stands.
When they’re not misbehaving, though, the club and their most committed fans are putting on some of the most impressive displays in football. For a third-tier side, they pack out stands and make optimum use of tifos and displays.
They recently took around 5,000 fans to Slavia Prague for a friendly; you can imagine how that looked.
Around 5000 Dynamo Dresden fans in Praha today for a friendly against Slavia! 🇩🇪🔝 pic.twitter.com/5KeYWji65M
— 𝐂𝐚𝐬𝐮𝐚𝐥 𝐔𝐥𝐭𝐫𝐚 𝐎𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 (@thecasualultra) July 16, 2023
Known inside the Czech Republic as the ‘Tribuna Sever’, Slavia and their fans are very much not to be confused with bitter city rivals Sparta Prague and their respective ultras.
Slavia takes their ultras so seriously that they’ve given them their own shop on the side of the stadium, run by a man and his dog. Seriously. It’s full of stickers you’d see in toilets in football grounds and lamposts surrounding the area, as well as balaclavas and other stuff.
Political tension has obviously cooled down compared to the 20th Century and the height of Communism in Eastern Europe, but it still plays a key part in the divide.
Having been less successful over the years in terms of trophies and European popularity, Slavia now sit as the underdogs, although none of that matters when the most extreme section of supporters are there to put on fierce displays behind the goal home and away and set off fireworks.
Moving across Prague, Sparta are perhaps more commonly known by fans of European football. They boast more wins in The Prague Derby and have won more national championships.
Sections of Sparta’s ultras have become more and more alienated from Communist roots in the last 30 years, as is often the case with these sorts of groups.
The club has been fined for their ultras using racist chants in European clashes and they’ve also been known to direct anti-semitic chants at their rivals, due to Slavia’s alleged Jewish connections.
— Anthony Steiner 🇩🇪🇳🇱🇨🇿 (@_AnthonySteiner) April 16, 2023
Premier League fans often make Galatasaray and the Turkish Super Lig in general the butt of the joke, due to their tendency to pick up ageing players considered over the hill and flops who didn’t cut it in England.
But what they rarely consider is the absurd support for the Istanbul side.
Known by some as UltrAslan, Gala’s rabid ultras are no strangers to fighting around Europe and causing scenes, even getting their team’s match with Marseille stopped briefly in 2021, with manager Fatih Terim having to mediate and get them to calm down inside the Velodrome.
We mentioned PSG ultras towards the top, who can be pretty outspoken, but Marseille’s ultras are undoubtedly the most chaotic in France.
On a big night for the club, they make sure that the Stade Velodrome becomes as hostile as it can possibly be.
Riot police had to diffuse a situation when when their ultras turned things ugly inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September 2022, resulting in a portion of them being banned for what would be a crucial home leg in the group stages.
Ahead of that game, ultras let off a plethora of fireworks outside the Spurs hotel at 3am, then welcomed their team with a seriously intimidating display which was dominated by the smoke of more pyrotechnics, around the outside of the ground.
That’s not even scratching the surface with that lot.
[Champions League] [Ultras] [01.11.2022]
🇪🇺 Olympique de Marseille-Totthenam
Marseille waiting for the Team Bus. Amazing!pic.twitter.com/WLwPG8RB0U
— 101% ULTRAS (@101ULTRAS) November 1, 2022
The level of passion and dedication in South American football is immense. And watching Boca fans rock La Bombonera might be the very peak of that.
One of the most revered fan cultures in world football, ‘La 12’ aren’t just there to scale the fences behind the goal and put on fierce displays of support, they back it up and defend their club.
Buenos Aries is host to a number of Argentina’s biggest sides, thus tribalism is everything and clubs mean everything to fans; it’s not uncommon for tensions to boil over.
In 2015, Boca fans were kicked out of the Copa Libertadores final after some were found guilty of attacking River Plate players with irritant sprays.
In a time where hooliganism has long been dead and buried in England, the state of play is very much the opposite in Argentina.
River Plate fans will have something to say about the above, instead staking their own claim as South America’s best-supported side.
The Superclasico between Boca and River wouldn’t be anywhere near as iconic as it is considered these days if it wasn’t for the sheer tension that existed between the two clubs and their fans, who are constantly on the verge of boiling over and going too far.
In Argentina, ultras go beyond violence; they live and breathe the club, and will help govern on decisions and changes where necessary.
It’s a completely different world over there.
🇦🇷 River Plate vs Estudiantes 16/07/2023 pic.twitter.com/sAxLiSVL7Q
— 101% ULTRAS (@101ULTRAS) July 16, 2023
A Polish side with an already passionate fanbase, Legia Warsaw have a rather fierce and intimidating ultras wing associated with the club.
‘Teddy Boys 95’ emerged in the 1980s and follow the club around Poland and further afield, often getting caught up in fights with hooliganism again a big issue.
But for all their fighting and the associated right-wing political views, the ultras section does have an influence over the club and would regularly lock horns with owners in a bid to push for changes.
Probably best known on a wider front for their huge anti-UEFA tifo they unveiled during their Europa League campaign.
Red Star Belgrade
It won’t be a surprise to see Red Star included in this list. The Serbian outfit’s supporters go by the name Delije, meaning ‘heroes’ or ‘braves’, which they adopted in the 1980s.
There were actually several different factions of Red Star ultras upon their emergence in the ’80s, with some focusing on creating an atmosphere through chanting and music like the Italians, and the others adopting a more violent, traditional hooliganism approach similar to the English at the time.
These days, Red Star’s ultras are still putting on seriously frightening displays home and away and play their part in one of the most intimidating derbies in football.
But they’re also still very politically charged and are often associated with paramilitary groups, and are never too far away from violence or racism.
— CASUALS ON TOUR (@CasualsOnTour_) May 23, 2018
Ultras culture is still wildly common in Italy, with most clubs having some variant of a ‘Curva Nord’ or ‘Curva Sud’ section in their stadiums. Those sections will put on brilliant displays of support and make for marvellous spectacles on European nights.
But Lazio are the club that still have an incredibly strong and politically charged ultras wing associated with them. The Irriducibili is known for its open support of fascism and far-right politics, even in the modern day.
That doesn’t account for the plentiful anti-fascist ultras also associated with the club, but it’s that extremist group that has long ruled the roost and established itself as the most common association.