Are Spain’s Ultras out of control?

While it was no surprise, it caused a fair amount of shock. Fans of Zenit St. Petersburg released an open letter that made headlines across the world when they called on the club to refrain on buying black players. It had commentators across the world ask who was really in charge of the club and Spain was no exception. Yet, whilst midday sports presenters expressed their disgust on Spanish TV, maybe they should put their own house in order first.

Almost every week a new story emerges in the Spanish media regarding Ultras. This week it is the return of the Boixos Nois. Joan Laporta banned them and even took down their coat of arms, which was attached to the stadium. It was a move that earned him a lot of praise and also a few death threats. They were back in the headlines again two years ago when they were spotted in Monaco for the European Super Cup. It was played down but last week they were back again in the Camp Nou and were once again causing problems by throwing a flare at visiting Real Madrid fans.

Sandro Rosell admitted that they had been let back in as the atmosphere had started to decline in the ground but there may be another reason. One of the reasons why Laporta’s ban was successful and even possible was the fact that Barca were able to sell out their ground easily. This was the main reason more clubs didn’t follow suit, as they knew banning the Ultras would make a major dent in the coffers. With the Spanish economy still in decline and even Barca feeling the pinch, they are forced to consider allowing them back in. They are not alone. Clubs, even those as big as Real Madrid, need their Ultras.

The Santiago Bernabeu really would be a library if it wasn’t for the Ultra Sur. At the Bernabeu they control all the chants and anyone who sings anything that doesn’t please them is not welcome. They have extreme right wing views and Nazi salutes are common. So too are monkey chants aimed at black players, but the club still needs them. Very often it is the Ultras who travel to European away games. They even do odd jobs for the club – such as standing outside the hotel of the opposition and singing all night trying to disrupt the other team’s sleep.

Atletico Madrid are no angels neither. A net behind one of the goals stops El Frente from throwing objects on to the field. Racist chanting is common, so too are disgusting chants about Antonio Puerta and Real Sociedad fan Aitor Zabaleta. In 1998 he was stabbed by an Atletico fan and El Frente take pride in it and can often be heard singing chants calling for the freedom of the person arrested for the crime. But Atleti do nothing about them.

Rayo Vallecano’s Ultras, Los Bukaneros, were recently in the news as 13 of their fans were arrested. Last week police detained fans after the club made a complaint. The club deny doing this but the Bukaneros don’t believe them. The Ultras have a lot of say at the club. Last year they descended on to the training ground and demanded that the players respect the general strike that was due to take place later that week. Whilst players and management denied it was the reason for striking, nobody was fooled that it played apart in Rayo being the only club in La Primera to strike.

Celta Vigo’s fans also made headlines recently when they reportedly blocked new Coach Abel Resino’s choice of assistant manager. Resino had wanted to appoint former Valencia and Atletico player Salva Ballesta. The club’s left wing fans didn’t want the qualified fighter pilot on the bench. His right wing views are no secret in Spain and it was too much for the fans. Again another example of who is really in charge of Spain’s clubs.

Ultras create an atmosphere and whilst it is true that it wouldn’t be the same without them, it is also true that they are damaging Spain’s image abroad. Clubs seem to be keen to ignore it and when issues such as racist chanting arise, everyone sticks their heads in the ground. While the Presidents sit in the VIP boxes watching their sides compete, the real men in charge appear to be those who sit behind the goal.