Get your knits out for the lads: Are the ultras the new craftivists?

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

34 Pages, Grade: 82%


List of Contents


List of illustrations



Chapter 1: Who are the ultras and are they a community of practice?

Chapter 2: What are the similarities with craftivists and what is the notion of ‘home’?

Chapter 3: What is the political nature of the ultras?

Chapter 4: Are the ultras artists?




This dissertation proposes that groups of particularly passionate football fans are a form of craft community. The ‘ultras’ create extravagant displays which enhance their performances during football matches. Much attention has been paid to hooliganism and football violence, but very little has been written about the positive and creative aspects of football fandom.

This paper asks if the ultras are a community of practice. They are compared with the ‘craftivists’, and the notion of ‘home’ is discussed within the context of football and the re-evaluation of private spaces. The political nature of the ultras is considered and the concept of ‘the political‘ is addressed, with reference to Chantal Mouffe’s insights into the failure of politics to embrace the political and the importance of antagonism in political discourse.

The performative nature of the ultras raises the question whether this can be considered artistic practice, in the light of Grant Kestor’s discussion of ‘dialogical aesthetics’ and the role of dialogue-based artistic interventions.

The conclusions drawn from this study suggest that the ultras are a community of practice through expressing a shared repertoire and through the organisation of public events. The artistic practices of the ultras are evident but difficult to define. The manner in which the ultras support their club and the criticisms they direct towards the authorities contradict their apolitical position; Kestor’s dialogical aesthetics, particularly the role of empathy, could be used to heal the rift between the ultras and the football associations.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1 Atlético Madrid (2007) [photograph]. Ultras-Tifo Forum [online].

Available from: [Accessed on 20th February 2014, at 9:40].

Figure 2 Crystal Palace Ultras at home to Burnley (2012) [photograph]. The Holemsdale Online [online].

Available from: [Accessed on 3rd March 2013, at 22:06]

Figure 3 Pink M.24 Chaffee (2006) [Photograph]. Pink M.24 Chaffee, a tank wrapped in pink [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 5th January 2014, at 16:32)

Figure 4 The world’s biggest flag, FC Nacional, Estadio Centenario, Uruguay (20999) [Photograph]. The Other Paper [online].

Available at: (Accessed 20th February 2014, at 12:25

Figure 5 Guevara Sticker, St Pauli (2012) [Photograph]. FCSP Athens South End Scum [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 27th December 2012, at 11:27)

Figure 6 PORT SAID, Egypt, Jan 27, 2013 (2013) [Photograph]. Morocco World News [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 11th November 2013, at 10:10)

Figure 7 The Truth is Always Revolutionary (2009) [Photograph]. Democracia [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 20th February 2014, at 11:42)

Figure 8 Diabos Vermelhos 1982, Benfica Lisbon, Portugal (2013) [Photograph]. Tifo TV, Facebook [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 7th September 2013, at 17:19)

Figure 9 FC Barcelona (2005) [Photograph]. Ultras-Tifo Forum [online].

Available at: (Accessed on 20th February 2014, on 9:33)


The writing of this dissertation has been one of the most significant academic challenges I have ever had to face. Without the support, patience and guidance of Mary Loveday-Edwards, this study would not have been completed.

This dissertation is dedicated to my parents, June and Brian Retter.


The ‘ultras’ are groups of passionate football supporters who are motivated to support their team creatively to generate a better atmosphere within football stadiums, while adopting a critical attitude to ‘modern’ football. This dissertation proposes that these groups are a form of craft community, engaging in art and craft activism.

The ultras produce elaborate displays which form a part of their own performance during football matches, and it is these artefacts, as well as the performative nature of their work, which suggest that this is a suitable subject for investigation. Very little has been written about this particular subject. Many articles have discussed football’s tribalism and hooligan culture, but very little has been published about the more positive aspects of football fandom, particularly regarding the creative input of the ultras. The existence of a report for the ‘International Conference on Ultras‘ on behalf of the European Commission suggests that the ultras are seen as a problem, a blight on the modern game. This research has drawn from papers and articles that describe the ultras and other forms of artistic intervention, as well as theories concerning the nature of politics and art.

The main research questions include whether the ultras are a community of practice, and if there are similarities and differences between ultras and ‘craftivists’. The tactics employed by both groups will be examined, as will the notion of ‘home’ and the private sphere and how private spaces have been redefined. Allegiance to political ideologies and the political dimension of the ultras’ practices are investigated in the context of the relationship between art and politics. The question whether the work of the ultras can be considered artistic practices leads to an examination of the relationship between the ultras and established arts and crafts communities, as well as the role of arts practices in the public realm. The role of politics and ‘the political’ regarding critical art practices are discussed to establish a point of reference for the ultras and their artefacts and performances.

The first chapter introduces the ultras by referring to the report drafted by the European Commission for the ‘International Conference on Ultras‘. It also raises the question whether they are a community of practice, using Etienne Wenger’s theory of communities and learning systems.

The second chapter introduces craftivists and compares gender-specific practices and the adoption of tactics not normally associated with their groups. The notion of ‘home’ is also discussed within the context of football as well as the public sphere, using Esther Belvis Pons’ online article, which discusses how private spaces have entered the public domain, as well as the role of social media in establishing virtual public spaces.

The third chapter discusses the political dimension of the ultras. Although the ultras generally believe that politics should be kept away from the terraces, there are groups that share a political ideology. Reference is made to Chantel Mouffe’s presentation, which looks at public spaces and the inadequacy of ‘liberal’ politics to grasp the political, and what role art might play in redefining these spaces. The term ‘liberal’ is used by Mouffe to describe all forms of democratic discourse, some more liberal than others.

The fourth chapter investigates the performative nature of the ultras and discusses if their work should be considered artistic practice. Grant Kestor discusses the role of dialogue-based public art and this is used to examine whether the definition of this form of artistic practice can be applied to the performances of the ultras.

Chapter 1: Who are the ultras and are they a community of practice?

Figure 1: Atl ético Madrid (2007)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

According to the European Commission’s report for the International Conference on Ultras, the ultras are described as ‘particularly passionate, emotional, committed and above all very active fans’ (Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, 2010 p5). They are motivated to create a better atmosphere within the stadiums and support their teams creatively, while adopting a critical attitude to ‘modern’ football. They do not wear traditional fan clothing, as they reject the commercialisation of the modern game, but are still distinctively dressed in dark-coloured and sport-orientated clothes. Some groups have chosen particular branded clothing that presents their unique identity; this appearance is often reminiscent of the 1980s ‘casuals’ youth culture. The ultras’ identities are reflected in their attitude to supporting their club. Their fanatical support and ‘love’ for their club disguises the awareness of their own presence. The separation of players and fans in recent times has led to the ultras to perceive themselves as the most loyal fans. Players, managers, even owners of the clubs are transient, yet the fans remain loyal to the club and the ultras see themselves as the true fans (Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, 2010).

The preparation of displays is a huge undertaking and these are financed through donations, membership fees or selling the group’s merchandise. The ‘merch’ also serves to promote the image of the group, as clothing and badges displaying their unique logo or symbol present a collective identity.

The majority of ultra groups want to influence the way the game is run, whether to reduce ticket prices, to obtain permission to develop their activities or to put forward their own ideas on anti-hooligan laws. These aims and protests against the commercialisation of football are in contrast to their apolitical stance (Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, 2010).

The ultra movement started in Italy in the 1960s and these groups can claim to have a history of over forty years, whereas ultra groups in the UK have barely been in existence for ten years. The older, established groups have more formal structures and organisation, with leaders and management boards that are democratically elected. The hierarchies of these long-established groups are in contrast to the informality of the newer groups in the UK, where membership is open to anyone who wants to be involved with the activities of the group. Joining would consist of meeting up with members before a match, usually at a pub, or at half-time at the ultras’ stall at the stadium. This lack of formality does not detract from the organisation of their activities, where they usually meet up to plan and prepare displays (Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, 2010).

‘Communities of practice’ are defined as groups which have shared cultural practices and their activities can be broken down into three elements: ‘joint enterprise’, the unifying purpose of what that community is about; the ‘mutuality’ on which that community is built; and their ‘shared repertoire’, the language, routines and styles that that community uses (Wenger, 2000). The ultras’ joint enterprise is supporting their team through the mutual engagement of their shared repertoire, which expresses their fanatical loyalty to the club. Their repertoire requires a degree of self-awareness as well as the tools that they deploy (Wenger, 2000). The performative elements of their displays and vocal support are public events that serve to promote their passion and beliefs.

Another important aspect is belonging to a community, not only through engaging in practices and presenting an image of that community, but ‘alignment’ and how communities are formed for a shared common purpose (Wenger, 2000). For the ultras, the common purpose is the manner in which they choose to support their club, yet in the stadium their practice serves to inspire participation from other fans who are not members of the group, as Wenger puts it ‘…a mutual process of coordinating perspectives, interpretations, and actions so they realise higher goals’. For example, a song or chant could spread around the stadium or non-ultra supporters could engage with visual displays without belonging to the group. The visual tools for such displays are distributed around the stadium for all to use, when prompted.

The organisation of public events develops a sense of identity and the role of a ‘community coordinator’ is necessary to help the community develop (Wenger, 2000). The ultras’ internal structures vary from group to group: some are hierarchical and others are more flexible; but, according to Wenger, communities need many forms of leadership as members will take responsibility for various tasks. These tasks can range from organising fund-raising to leading the chanting at matches, but these necessary functions require leadership of one form or another, even in flexible, casually organised groups. The production of ‘artefacts’ is the distinctive and predominant attribute of the ultras. Their practice revolves around their self-image and the promotion of their identity and this is enhanced by their performances and the tools that they deploy to promote the group. Artefacts are not only the visual tools and the vocal performances, but the documentation of these events (Wenger, 2000). YouTube videos record their visual and vocal engagement for posterity, to promote the group as extremely passionate about their club.

Another aspect of the notion of communities is the existence of ‘boundaries’. The fact that a community has formed is usually in response to the existence of a boundary, but also engaging in a shared practice creates boundaries (Wenger, 2000). The ultras are by nature rebellious and the manner in which they support their team is at odds with the people who run the game, but their identity as ‘the most loyal fans’ also creates divisions between them and other fans, who view them as insular. However, without boundaries and the challenges that ensue from them, the practice would be in danger of becoming stale. Boundary interaction is usually the result of being exposed to a foreign practice, and can broaden the perspectives at these boundaries (Wenger, 2000). Although the ultra scene exists everywhere where football is played and watched, in England there is an apathy from other fans towards such foreign practices, which are regarded as lacking in spontaneity and not a part of the English football culture. Some even view the ultra community as a manifestation of everything that is wrong with modern football, despite its practice being a demonstration against the modern game and the lack of genuine atmosphere. Yet some of these detractors admit that the tools used by the ultras are successful and that atmosphere has been lacking in English football for years.


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Get your knits out for the lads: Are the ultras the new craftivists?
BA (Hons) Glass
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Adele Retter (Author), 2014, Get your knits out for the lads: Are the ultras the new craftivists?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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