Is La Liga standing up to the Ultras?

And on the 12th minute it happened but the difference here was this time the chants were somewhat muted. At other grounds, fans in the stands had been more vocal but at Vicente Calderon the majority of those watching the game let it pass. The protest on the 12th minute has been going on for a few weeks now.

Fans across Spain are protesting the new rules Javier Tebas has introduced. They have seen clubs reported for abusive chanting and for many it is not before time. There are others who feel the LFP have gone too far and are taking the soul out of football but at the Calderon, feelings are mixed. And so they should be because it was here where it all began and it was here where some felt change was needed the most. Things did improve but a banner displayed in the Calderon Fondo Sur last Saturday suggests that things may be returning to the way they used to be.

The death of a Deportivo La Coruna supporter hours before a midday kick off against Atletico Madrid shocked Spain. The Ultras in Spain were almost a law unto themselves before that tragic day and none more so than next to the Manzanares River.

Having already been involved in another death of a fan a few years ago, El Frente Atletico once again made the headlines when they were involved in a street brawl that resulted in one death. The Ultra group, allegedly with extreme right wing views and an appetite for violence, have been for a while under the impression they run things down by the river.

They have taunted players, invaded training sessions and tried to claim that they are the only real supporters at the club. After the Deportivo events, the Atletico board said enough was enough and banned the ‘supporters group’ from entering the ground with scarves, banners and other memorabilia. The fans were allowed into the ground but they were told that things had changed and for a while it looked like the club were serious.

Yet, looks can be deceiving. There can be no denying the LFP have clamped down on clubs for abusive behaviour. Clubs, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, have been reported for chants aimed at players, clubs and regions. Banners of a political nature are taken down straight away by the police or stewards and while some at first welcomed the crackdown, many now feel that the League have gone way too far.

The majority of fans are happy that racial, homophonic and xenophobic abuse and chanting is being stamped out and for many it hasn’t happened quickly enough. Yet, some feel that fining or banning of fans for insulting a player, referee or Coach for insults that are exchanged every day on the street and have nothing to do with sexuality, race or creed is going too far and that the soul of the game is being lost. Some are even claiming that supporters are now afraid to open their mouths.

This may be a slight exaggeration and the League did need to act after years of burying their head in the sand but where is the end line?

For a while, Spain was used as the poster child for ignorance and denial when it came to undesired issues in football. Many a time when a country looked at its own problems, it could at least have the consolation that in Spain things were worse. Many journalists wrote pieces criticising the League’s constant ignorance but times are changing.

After events involving two British clubs whose fans were involved in offensive chanting, various British journalists have praised the LFP and their new tough stance on abusive chanting this week. For once the Spanish game is making the headlines for the right reasons and people are using it as an example that should be followed.

But, before the League start a round of backslapping, this weekend at the Calderon showed that the Ultras are far from gone and that they are not going to disappear quietly into the night.

Behind the goal, in the Fondo Sur, as clear as day, was a sign with the initials FA. They stand for Frente Atletico and all banners et cetera related to that group are banned form the stadium but to get around that issue, the Ultras group claimed that the FA stood for Forza Atleti and the rest of the letters were in small print under the initials.

El Frente Atletico then took to Twitter and announced they had got their banners back into the ground and tweeted a photo of the FA sign. There can be no doubt to what it really means now. When fans asked why the sign hadn’t been removed, reports of police and stewards trying to take it down surfaced but it was said that to avoid confrontation, it was better to just let it stay where it was.

It was also said that it would have been too difficult to take the banner down but anyone who has ever been to Vicente Calderon and seen a banner cover an advertising hoarding will tell you the stewards have no problems cutting down the offending item. It is little wonder why the Ultras are claiming a victory and the rest of the fans are worried that things are going to be like they were.

Against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, scarves, flags and banners of the banned Ultras group could be seen in the away end. It should be pointed out that the vast majority of Atletico fans are against the Ultras and applauded the club when they banned them. It should also be mentioned that a majority of that majority did not believe that the ban would be permanent.

The LFP is in overdrive at the moment but it could be argued they have bitten off more than they can chew and should have tackled these problems in steps, sorting out the biggest issues first and then addressing chanting. It is too late for that now but all eyes are on Spain and it’s an opportunity to finally show there is some good in the League.

There is a lot of pressure and having started down this path, there is no going back for the League. Should they fail, disaster will follow. What Atletico will do is anyone’s guess but like the LFP they too have had somewhat of a blemished image that is in need of cleaning.

They have a big opportunity to show they have addressed their problems. Will they take it? The issue of the Ultras and chanting looks set to rumble on. The question is who will fold first?