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Clearing the misconceptions about Russian football ultras

916   //    20 Jun 2016, 13:34 IST
Russian Fans
Things turned ugly betwen the Russian fans and the English fans during their Euro 2016 game.

UEFA Euro 2016, which was supposed to be a feast for the eyes of football fans around the world, has turned into a mess as fans turned into hooligans. We have already seen fans of Croatia, Hungary, England and Russia cause problems at the Euros which is being held in France. The biggest trouble makers at the Euros so far have been the Russian and the English fans.

A fight that broke out during the England vs Russia game is yet to die down. Videos of Russian fans attacking and hunting down English fans can be seen on social media and it is a sad state of affairs, to see such violence overshadowing the beautiful game. UEFA has warned Russia and they are facing a threat of disqualification, but Russia is also on the verge of getting eliminated from the Euros as they lie bottom of the Group B points table. The Russian fans have become a talking point now. While all media are busy in portraying them as hooligans there is something that the media has never spoken about. The football ultras in Russia. This is an article to shed some light on them.

Ultras are a type of football fans renowned for their fanatical support, occasionally to the point of violence and hateful chants and slogans. They occupy any one side of the stadium and put on amazing displays of support for their teams. Often, they also display acts against several social and political problems. The most popular example is probably the football ultras at the Signal Iduna Park in support of Borussia Dortmund. A wall of yellow, big banners with slogans and signs praising the team in yellow and black, and yellow flares. It is pretty much the same around the world, but in some places, these ultras turn into hooliganism.

In Russia, teams like Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, and Zenit Saint Petersburg have their own ultras. Thousands of fanatics turn up to support their team vocally and whole-heartedly. While Russian football fans are termed as hooligans, we might have to turn our eyes to the Russian League in order to see the power and effect of the football ultras in Russia. We have a certain perception about the football fans in Russia. We have seen videos of two groups of young fans battling each other, and these videos created the perception in our minds that football ultras in Russia are synonymous with hooliganism. Sadly the clashes between the Russian fans and England fans at the Euros have concreted our view.

Spartak Fans
The Spartak Moscow fans are amongst the most passionate in the world.

We will need to learn about the Fratria, the largest group of football ultras in Russia, in order to get to the truth. The Fratria is an official group established in 2005 with the aim to provide improved support for FC Spartak Moscow. There is another group based in Saint Petersburg, who also supports FC Spartak Moscow, called The Aliens. The Fratria was the first group in Russia to travel to away games in order to support their team. It is officially recognized that in 1972 they became the first group to travel to any city in order to support their club. But, back then it was just a large gathering of fans. Nothing 'organised' took place at games. Now they are groups of organised fans.

The Fratria was formed after borrowing ideas from Western Europe, and some of their banners were written in English. The name Fratria means brotherhood in Greek, and Spartak have a good relationship with Greek side, Olympiacos, as well as Serbian side, Red Star Belgrade. The brotherhood between the three clubs is evident from the fact that they share the same kit colour – Red and White. It goes beyond that into the religious, and political realms as they also share orthodox Christian beliefs.

The Russian supported the Serbs in the 2010 World Cup and the Serbs are supporting the Russians for this year's Euros. Some of the Red Star fans used to travel to watch Spartak, when they performed in European tournaments, and next season the Fratria members might also travel to see Red Star Belgrade perform in the Champions League. Even if the fans have different ideologies and views, football unites them. When they are at the stadium to support their teams, they all speak and breathe football. Football has allowed them to support each other in political matters too. Football creating friendship and brotherhood between three countries is a thing that brings happiness to the minds of any football lover. But, it isn’t all rosy, though.

Spartak Ultras
The Spartak Ultras are huge fans of pyrotechnics.

The Fratria and other Russian football ultras are big fans of pyrotechnics. Pyrotechnics are banned all over the world, but the ultras don't really care about rules. They find a way to enter the stadiums with pyros and flares. If they get caught, they may have to pay a fine or may get imprisoned but they don't care about that either. Flares and pyros are a big part of the Russian football ultras, and this level of fanatical support can get their teams into the trouble with the authorities. We have seen fans of clubs like Liverpool setting off flares, but it is nothing compared to the ones in Russia. Flares only get set off very rarely in England and in other countries, but in Russia, that's not the case. We can also see 'Pyro is not a crime' banners and also other banners abusing the police and other authorities at the stadiums. Banners, in fact ,are one of the biggest parts of the ultras.

Banners, flags, and other artworks are designed by the members of the fan groups itself. In that way, they believe, they can bring their zealous passion into all these works. No one gets paid for designing and creating all those, it's all a matter of passion and love for the club you support. They believe just supporting the team is not enough. One can come to a game wearing the jersey of the team they support, watch the game and then go home, but this is not the 'Fratria Way'. The Ultras believe in being fanatics. In this way, they become the twelfth man for their team. They actively take part in vocal support and also in choreographed support. They are with their team, no matter what.

The Fratria members don't support the club on the basis of the success the club, but it's all about love and passion for the team. They have a sense of belonging, and Spartak Moscow is their club, their family, their love. Spartak Moscow have not won a Russian League title since 2003 but that does not stop the Fratria from getting behind their team. In an era, where the word 'loyalty' is fading away, the Fratria gives us hope.

 Some of the techniques followed by the Russian football ultras may sound extreme and some people may term it 'hooliganism', but there is another side to the story. They might do illegal things like the using flares and pyros, but they usually don't turn to violence. Their acts of passion is something different fans from across Europe have tried to borrow. The fans of top European clubs might need to take a lesson or two from the Russians. Many fan groups of clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Real Madrid, who claim themselves to be the best fans in the world, might have to watch some Spartak Moscow matches next season.

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Budding football writer and Liverpool fan. Above all lover of the beautiful game!
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