From sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland and Scotland, to far right and left movements within supporters groups in Italy and Germany, to the revolution in Egypt, football fans have always reflected local politics. In Syria, this has taken on a new dimension, where the growth of Ultras culture has become a source of respite in a world turned upside-down.
An ‘Ultra’ is an individual who has a desire for autonomy and refuses every form of control, from the football associations to the police and beyond. The movement emerged in the early 1950’s, when fans began organising around the stands, using the terraces as a space to express their dissent towards greater societal issues.
Ultras groups in Styria were first established in 2009, inspired by the dedicated support they had seen in terraces across the world. Soon, supporters groups began popping up throughout the country, inspiring youths who desired a sense of belonging and a connection to a global subculture.
Six months ago, we got an Email from Nadim, a Syrian fan activist living in Germany. Armed with nothing more than a cell phone and a love for this beautiful game, we were able to gain access to Ultras still living in Syria. What became clear was that for them, going to the stadium had come to mean more than just following their clubs.
Whilst were making this film, the FA tried to register the Ultras, demanding list of names for all their members. Just as fans have boycotted ID-specific ticketing systems in Europe, they Syrian Ultras did the same. When the six largest supporters groups in the country issued a statement against the FA’s ruling, they were forced to rescind it.
This kind of solidarity amongst fans is all too rare anywhere in the world, but especially in a country where fan groups are divided by the same underlying tensions that have boiled over into civil war. In Syria, the Ultras have come together, driven by a desire to return to the terraces of old and in the hopes that people will trade in their Kalichnikov’s for flagpoles and flares.