The hardest edge of football’s soft power – a daring insider’s guide to the violent but complex world of ultra fans
Ultras are notoriously difficult to define. they’re the foremost hardcore and extremist of football fans, but while many groups became criminal gangs, morphing into semi-secretive, paramilitary organisations that accumulate world power and wealth, others are idealistic crusaders against injustice and tyranny. many ultras are neo-fascist, but there are many far-left groups, too. The ultra mentality is all about the local – your street, suburb or city – but it’s also a globalised subculture during which fans thousands of miles apart influence each others’ songs, protests, politics and philosophies. agen sbobet indonesia maxbetsbobet.org
James Montague has spent a few years with them (his subtitle – “among the ultras” – seems a conscious nod to Bill Buford’s acclaimed if flawed book on British hooligans, Among the Thugs). The “1312” of the title refers to the alphabet code for ACAB, an ubiquitous acronym which stands for “all cops are bastards”. It’s that which unites the movement: there’s , Montague writes, a “mistrust in any sort of authority”. There’s a bloody-minded contrariness to the ultras. it’s typified by the word dišpet employed by its members from Hadjuk Split: “a term of defiance that roughly means to oppose something regardless of the results … Dišpet means to be anti-everything.”
Montague may be a brilliant and daring guide. Travelling to 25 countries to match ultra movements round the world, he takes the reader to warehouses, forests, terraces and underpasses. In Albania, a nationalist called Ismail drives together with his knees as he loads, cocks and fires a gun. In Indonesia the author is chased by rival ultras armed with machetes. He smokes weed with a fascist mobster in Rome. It’s frequently pretty dangerous: “I had been warned that if we ever got into trouble that I shouldn’t , under any circumstances, fall over. ‘If you fall, you’re dead.’”
It’s an immersive account, partly because it’s clearly a world Montague enjoys. He hints that he was something of a scallywag in his youth: “As an adolescent i need to are arrested a dozen times. Getting caught was almost as big a rush as getting away.” Researching and writing the book was how to recapture that teenage buzz. After one scrape – and there are many here – he says: “My heart was beating fast and that i felt something approaching elation after my escape. i used to be fifteen again. I turned on the sunshine within the bathroom and stared at myself within the mirror. i used to be smiling.”
But the first-person isn’t overdone or naff: there’s enough of it to capture the fix and therefore the fear, but it mainly serves to elucidate the existential attraction of the ultra life: the absorption of the self into something far greater, into the group, into a tribe or a brotherhood. It’s “a sound”, he writes poetically, “that you’ll lose yourself into”. In some ways it’s nothing to try to to with football but all about danger and adrenaline, about vulnerability and protection, about piggy-backing football to enjoy an emotional rollercoaster.