The kids want pyro
The last decade has seen supporters in both the League of Ireland and Irish League form groups with the aim of bringing a more continental atmosphere to Irish football grounds. Donal Fallon and Kevin Brannigan report.
Ultras, as many of these groups term themselves, are football fans renowned for colourful support of their clubs. This takes many forms, from displays involving banners, singing and confetti to handheld flares, just about anything which adds to the atmosphere inside a football ground. Ireland’s vibrant ‘Ultra culture’ is unusual when one remembers that the subculture never built much of a base for itself next door in Britain but traces its beginnings back to the 1950s and supporters of teams in the former Yugoslavia and Italy.
Ten years ago, the first of the Irish Ultras groupings emerged in Dublin. These were the SRFC Ultras at Shamrock Rovers and the Shed End Invincibles (SEI) at Saint Patrick’s Athletic. The contribution of these groups to the match-night experience of their respective clubs cannot be overstated. With these groups, a new colour and passion emerged at League of Ireland grounds. In these Ultra’s displays and banners one found passion, protest and humour.
What was the inspiration behind these groups? Unusually for an island where most football ’supporters’ have historically looked to Britain the first ultras on Irish terraces looked further afield. Choreographed displays, noisy supporters and the culture of the terraces found in Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Europe was exciting to a young generation of Irish football supporters.
In the years following the foundation of the earliest Irish Ultra groups, handheld flares and smoke bombs became a regular sight on terraces. Today, a combination of heavy-fines coupled with a more hands-on policing of football matches has led to a huge reduction in the amount of pyrotechnics and a greater focus on choreographed banner and flag displays.
Since 2001, the ultras scene has grown and expanded, with the emergence of Shelbourne FC’s ‘Briogaid Dearg’ and Bohemian FC’s ‘Notorious Boo Boys’. The scene is no-longer confided to Dublin with groups emerging throughout the island, from Cork to Sligo and north of the border among the supporters of Irish League clubs Glentoran, Cilftonvile and Linfield.Among European Ultras it is not uncommon for groups to hold political affiliations; such as Hamburg Club St. Pauli’s anti-fascists (who alongside images of Che Guevara display banners of Karl Marx) or the leftist Basques of Athletic Bilboa. Unfortunately many other Ultra groups associate with the politics of the far-right and some produce public displays of racism.
While most Irish ultras groupings see themselves as apolitical, Bohemian’s ‘Notorious Boo Boys’ have displayed images of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata while the ‘Shed End Invincibles’ have displayed Che Guevara images. Elsewhere, a growing sense of anger at the over-commercialisation of the game (often at the expense of fans) has led discontent in the stands. Although relationships between some Irish clubs and Ultras groupings have, on occasion, been less than perfect and all groups share a common distrust of what is referred to as ‘modern football’, something which they feel threatens the culture and the game.
Article published in LookLeft Vol.2 No.8