The songs of the Moroccan Ultras transitioned from simple songs to support teams spontaneously to a mouthpiece for discontented youth to express social demands.
Casablanca – In football, the term “Ultras” apply to a club’s most fanatical supporters. First appearing in Italy as early as the 1950s, who would have thought that in the 21st century, Moroccan Ultras would represent a social movement?
Before arriving in Morocco in the early 2000s, Ultras spread in the 1960s to the football stadiums of Milan, Genoa, and Turin.
Even as early as the 1930s, fans used songs, coordinated applause, flags, and drums to set the mood at matches in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Montevideo. How did the sports phenomenon become a social movement in North Africa?
From an Italian cradle
The term Ultra comes from Latin and means one who “goes further than.” The Ultra fan went further than the classic football supporter or “tifosi” in radical support for their favorite team.
Ultra-supporters sought to cheer on their teams in both a fanatic and organized manner. Ultras became organizations distinct from the club, cultivating their own decision-making and financial independence.
Young teenagers created the movement in the turbulent and violent context of Italy in the 1960s. Indeed, Italians call the late 1960s their “Years of Lead.” It was a period of extreme political tension leading to street clashes and acts of terrorism.
Ultras chose group names with political connotations, such as Commando. One of the first Ultra entities in history, created in 1968, was Fossa Dei Leoni, the “Lion’s Den,” which supported AC Milan.
Teen gangs founded these Ultra entities wishing to free themselves from social and family shackles and bringing in a new culture that went beyond that of the classic tifosi.
The Italian clubs’ flags were already a part of regular football, but the new groups perpetuated the use of drums and smoke bombs. They displayed a tifo, a large canvas drawing by Ultras, when the players entered the stadium.
Ultras supporters represented not only a club but also the club’s city or region. In Spain, the Bukaneros, a group supporting Rayo Vallecano, represented both the club and the famous Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid.
This territorial anchoring pushed the Ultra groups to act socially and culturally. Today, they are social and sometimes political actors, especially the Moroccan and other North African Ultras.
The making of ‘Ultras’ in North Africa
Ultras appeared in North African countries in two stages. The “African Winners,” who supported Club Africain Tunis, appeared in 1995 as the presumed precursors of Ultras.
The next major group came to being in Morocco 10 years later.
Soon almost every major hub of football in the kingdom had teams with at least one Ultras club. In large cities, the groups were organized and were multiplying. In less than 10 years of existence, their European counterparts recognized them.
With this wave, the Ultras movement took on a new dimension. Raising public awareness became a motto. They reflected the unease of the Moroccan youth.
From Tangier in the north to Laayoune in the south, football stadiums are more than ever places where young people get a chance to express themselves, transforming the stadiums into a platform to criticize authorities.
How Moroccan Ultras reflect the youth’s unease
Morocco experienced the 2011 Arab Spring with a protest movement called “February 20.” The protestors were mostly young, demanding more democracy and an end to corruption.
They also called for a new model of Moroccan governance. Shortly after the protests began, they achieved a victory: A new Constitution.
However, pending the adoption of organic laws, the 2011 Constitution is still not fully implemented to date. The “February 20” movement is almost dead because of governmental repression.
But Moroccans found new hope inside football stadiums, a place where they can express their frustration and social change needs.
The songs of the Moroccan Ultras transitioned from simple songs to support teams at spontaneous moments to a mouthpiece for discontented youth to express their social demands.
The song “Oppressed in my country!” by the musical group “Ultras Eagles” who support Raja Casablanca has 9 million views on YouTube. The song’s title became a motto at large gatherings all over the Arab world.
Songs sung in Moroccan stadiums are sometimes seen millions of times on YouTube and shared widely on social networks, including Moroccan youth who are not necessarily football fans but believe the Ultras’ voice reflects theirs.
“Winners,” the Ultra group of Raja rival Wydad Casablanca, wrote “Free and rebellious,” a song criticizing the unemployment of young people and the privatization of public services.
This commitment sometimes spills over the stands. The leading group of Raja Casablanca fans expressed on Twitter its “total support for all prisoners of conscience” in Morocco.
As fans use football stadiums to express the misfortunes of a desperate society, the Ministry of the Interior is contending with them.
In two key events, two fans died in April 2016 and an administrative decree dissolved the Ultra groups. Many people believed it was a conspiracy by the government to take down the Ultras and stop their influence.
In 2018, 14 fans from Tetouan in the north received a jail sentence of 10 months. The fans had waved Spanish flags to denounce the death of a student, shot and killed by the Royal Moroccan Navy while attempting to migrate to Europe.
In a country where 46% of the population is under 15, the Ultras can take advantage of spaces abandoned by associations and political parties, not only in Morocco but in all North African countries.
If they are already the voice of commitment against the system, Ultras must now play a socializing role and educate their youngest members. And then we can speak about the most beautiful and the most pacifist of revolutions.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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