16 Hardcore Hooligan Firms, Ultras Groups We Wouldn't Want to Mess with
Hooliganism isn't nearly the intimidating force in world football it was 20 to 30 years ago, but there are still some firms and even ultras groups across the world that have us shaking in our boots. Today, we salute 16 of those groups we wouldn't want to mess with.
Prior to reading, it's important to make one key distinction: Ultras groups and hooligan firms are not one in the same, although the two often get conflated. More often than not, ultras are nonviolent, simply wildly passionate fans who seek to intimidate their rivals through a variety of means, whereas hooliganism is rooted in violence and intimidation. Ultras groups can express hooligan tendencies but are not necessarily hooligans, much in the same way a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not necessarily a—never mind.
Also, issues of this matter can be a bit contentious and sensitive, so it should be noted that the firms and groups affiliated with the clubs highlighted in this piece are in no way reflections of the fan base as a whole and the actions of a few should not contribute to a view of the majority and so on and so forth.
That being said, read on.
Millwall Bushwackers (Millwall F.C.)
One of the club's most popular chants is "No one likes us, we don't care," a response to the manner in which the supporters of South London club Millwall F.C. are constantly singled out and stereotyped as hooligans. Obviously, stereotypes are stereotypes and should be taken with a grain of salt, but due to the club and the Bushwackers' long-standing reputation and image as a club with a strong hooligan presence, we kind of had to include them.
Name a film made within the past 30 years about hooliganism, and it's pretty much guaranteed Millwall supporters will be featured in some capacity—The Firm, Green Street Hooligans, The Football Factory, Rise of the Footsoldier, Arrivederci Millwall—usually with the rivalry between Millwall and West Ham United hooligans as the plot point (see the next slide). At the beginning of the last decade, the Bushwackers were implicated in a string of incidents, ranging from the comparatively innocuous (throwing a partially eaten pie at a police officer) to the deadly serious (a violent clash involving nearly 100 Portsmouth and Millwall supporters at a pub).
Although things have gotten better, every once in a while old tensions flare—most notably in 2009 when Millwall and West Ham United faced one another in the League Cup and pitch invasions and rioting ensued, with both sides acting out, and last season, a match between Middlesbrough and Millwall was almost called off when fans threw missiles on the pitch.
Inter City Firm (West Ham United)
Like the Bushwackers, the ICF are one of the most internationally renowned firms in world football. The imagery associated with the Inter City Firm—most notably the calling card, "Congratulations, you've just met the ICF," left with victims—is also the most iconic and had an impact on hooliganism and football culture throughout England and the world.
Although they aren't the terrifying firm of the '70s and '80s, the ICF are included because they have had perhaps the biggest impact on popular culture of any international football firm, being the basis for the film Cass (about former leader Cass Pennant), the 1988 film The Firm (on which crew members served as consultants for authenticity's sake) and the 2005 film Green Street Hooligans, with the firm serving as the basis for the "Green Street Elite" in the film.
Nowadays, their rivalry with the Millwall Bushwackers is usually the catalyst for unrest, most recently in a series of violent riots and pitch invasions following the 2009 Football League match in which the London rivals met.
The Kop of Boulogne, Boulogne Boys (Paris Saint-Germain)
Paris Saint-Germain is one of the most widely supported French clubs in the world, and the Boulogne Boys give the Parc des Princes plenty of energy but have also emerged as Ligue 1's most notorious firm. In addition to starting brawls throughout the '90s and '00s with fans of clubs from all over Europe and has associations with racist and fascist ideologies.
Two PSG supporters have even been killed in the crossfire in recent years, the first after a 2006 match between PSG and Hapoel Tel Aviv, in which KOB member Julien Quemener was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer trying to protect a Hapoel supporter whom the group was attacking. In February of 2010, the warring fan groups of PSG—the Kop of Boulogne and the Tribune de Autueil—clashed violently, killing one KOB member.
Less physically pain inducing are their iconic, often vulgar, often totally offensive banners, among them this "Long Live Sodomy" banner directed at Marseille supporters (NSFW), "Paedophiles, unemployed and inbred: Welcome up north" directed at northern club Lens and kiss-off messages to players departing the club ("Weah, we do not need you") and the media in response to controversy over the aforementioned Lens banner ("Misinformation, sensationalism, anti-Parisianism. Welcome to the media!").
Boixos Nois (Barcelona)
Barcelona's "Crazy Boys," known for bringing a rather spirited and intimidating atmosphere to the Catalans' ground, were banned from the ground between 2003 and 2010 under Joan Laporta, but if you're a football player or administrator they see as being against the best interests of the (més que un) club, you may be in a bit of trouble.
In the early '00s, after enjoying much freedom when Josep Lluis Núñez and Joan Gaspart were in charge of the club, the Boixos intimidated successor Lluis Bassat throughout the club presidential election, even shouting anti-Semitic epithets. Laporta took over and banned the group from matches, they painted death threats on his house, attacked him and, as one phone tap revealed, had planned to kidnap him.
The Boixos Nois were also responsible for a now-notorious incident when Luís Figo, formerly a star with the Blaugrana having defected to rivals Real Madrid, played his first match for Los Merengues at the Camp Nou, they greeted him by throwing a pig's head at him.
Wisla Sharks (Wisla Krakow), Anty Wisla (Cracovia)
Think about everything you know about every tense, hyper-violent local derby. The Old Firm. The Súperclasico. The Intercontinental Derby. Few can compare to Krakow's Holy War, a derby so dangerous it's earned the city's football base the nickname the "City of Knives" and the involved clubs' two hooligan firms—Wisla Sharks and Anty Wisla—the reputation as two of Europe's most feared firms.
Tourists traveling to Krakow wishing to catch a match are advised to never choose sides or, if sides have been chosen, reveal where their loyalties lie. Declaring yourself a neutral party is a valuable safety precaution. Even players occasionally get a piece of the violence. In 1998, a Wisla ultra threw a knife at the head of Dino Baggio, getting the club a one-year ban in European play.
The Holy War derby has a 100-year history, enduring through war, genocide, occupation, the strangleholds of Hitler and Stalin. Today, it is perhaps even bloodier, with roots in poverty and unemployment in the city's estates resulting in pent-up anger and violence, adding fuel to the firms' flames. In 2006, before the 100th anniversary of the Holy War, riots ensued, water cannons were fired, scarves were burned and eight fans died.
Chelsea Headhunters (Chelsea F.C.)
There's a lot of rivalries, it seems, between the firms and hardcore groups of the London clubs, among them the ICF and the Bushwackers. Like many other English firms, the Headhunters aren't the same as they were in the 1970s and '80s, with the likes of Kevin Whitton, a Headhunter who was sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal attack on an American bar manager.
Still, every once in a while, the firm engages in violent activity—the most significant recent incident probably being a brawl that took place between the Headhunters and Cardiff City's Soul Crew at an FA Cup match in 2010, for which 24 people were charged with affray or violent disorder. The Headhunters have also been linked to racist and white supremacist organizations, such as the militant neo-Nazi group Combat 18.
Like the ICF and the Bushwackers, the Chelsea Headhunters have had a significant place in film and popular culture, most notably in the 2004 film The Football Factory, a fictionalized look at the headhunters and their rivalry with other firms, most notably Millwall's.
Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo Zagreb)
According to legend, their name comes from an '80s Sean Penn crime drama, and NK Dinamo Zagreb's ultras group, the Bad Blue Boys, certainly have an A-List reputation for intimidation. The BBB, like many hardcore supporters' groups, creates a spirited atmosphere with high-decibel chants and flares, but sometimes their actions can get out of hand. In 2008, a series of reported supporters' brawls, one which led to the death of member Franko Despic, led to members writing "Death to Journalists" in response to the media's representation of Dinamo's supporters. In December 2010, the Bad Blue Boys gained attention when a mob of members attacked a fan bus carrying supporters of Greek Super League club PAOK F.C., injuring 11 people.
That's not to say the Triple-B are all bad. In 2008, after a Dinamo-Tottenham Hotspur match in which the Croatian side lost 4-0 at White Hart Lane, their away support received praise and respect from the English fans and UK media for having an impassioned-enough support to continue to loudly cheer on their team even when getting routed. If only all away fans were so spirited.
Los Borrachos Del Tablón (River Plate)
Definitely one of the best names of any ultras group belongs to the barra bravas of Argentine "big five" club River Plate, who call themselves "Los Borrachos Del Tablón," or "The Drunks of the Leaderboard."
Like the groups of Boca Juniors, Newell's Old Boys, Racing Club and Independiente, the organized barra brava of River Plate is considered one of the largest, most well organized and most feared in all of Latin America, so much so that even members of rival barra brava La 12 de Boca refused to fight them. The reach of Los Borrachos' frightening power came with the splitting of the group into two factions in 2007, a war which led to the death of high-ranking member Gonzalo Acro.
Sport Club Feyenoord (Feyenoord)
Feyenoord's organized supporters' group, Het Legioen, is one of the most enthusiastic and diehard in all of Europe. But the Eredivisie club's support also has a more militant wing in Sport Club Feyenoord or, as the new generation is sometimes called, the Feyenoord Third Generation Rotterdam (FIIR).
SCF has a long-standing rivalry with F-side, the firm of AFC Ajax, culminating in the bloody "Battle of Beverwijk," a 1997 brawl near the Beverwijk freeway in Amsterdam, where despite the fact that the clubs weren't actually meeting, the groups attacked one another with everything from knives to Molotov cocktails while riot police looked on. One F-side member, a young man called Carlo Picornie, was stabbed to death in the battle.
Leeds United Service Crew (Leeds United)
So notorious, they have it printed on their merchandise.
The L.U.S.C. may not be the same firm that shook England in the '70s and '80s now, but its reputation surely precedes it. The firm holds the record for the English supporters' group with most banning orders in football, with 162 by the end of 2009. One of their most infamous recent campaigns, which resulted in 13 banning orders totaling 45 years, came after the 13 Leeds-supporting hooligans invaded the pitch, trapping and injuring eight wheelchair-using Ipswich Town supporters.
Gladiators (Spartak Moscow)
The Russian Premier League mainstays' nickname is just "The Meat," and with a name like that, you know they don't mess around. Football violence in Russia has been on the rise since the '80s, coming to the forefront in 2002 when riots killed two people following Russia's defeat to Japan in a World Cup match.
Spartak's Gladiators, along with CSKA's Gallant Steeds and Zenit St. Petersburg's Musichall, have emerged as the most intimidating firms. When Vasily "The Killer," the firm's leader at the time, spoke to the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in 2007, he had this to say:
"Russians are the strongest hooligans in Europe," Vasily says, staring straight into my eyes with a cold gaze.
"Against our toughest guys the English don't stand a chance. They're out of practice, they don't know anything about tactics of street fighting. They'll be crushed."
A.S. Roma Ultras (AS Roma)
Historically, there have been a number of tense rivalries between hardcore supporters of English and Italian clubs, culminating in the worst possible way in the tragedy at Heysel in 1985, in which clashes between Liverpool and Juventus supporters led to the deaths of 39 Juventus supporters and had serious consequences for English football.
More recently, AS Roma has been linked with a number of incidents in which the club's ultras have attacked English football fans. When Middlesbrough came to the Campo de Fiori in 2006 for a UEFA Cup match, Roma ultras targeted two bars where the away support would gather, and subsequent altercations led to the stabbing of three Boro supporters. In 2009, worried about attacks from ultras toward the away support, Arsenal handed out information to supporters about how to avoid the ultras while heading to the Stadio Olimpico for a Champions League match. Ultras still ambushed one Arsenal minibus, leading to the stabbing attack of one away fan.
UltrAslan, Galatasaray Ultras
Istanbul-based clubs Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Besiktas are all known for having some seriously devoted fans and some of the fiercest rivalries in Europe. Galatasaray fans in particular like to go to great lengths to create an intimidating atmosphere at their ground, be it with the "war chant," flares or the mantra "Welcome to Hell," often seen in banners around the stadium. Sometimes, though, Gala's ultras' intimidation tactics go a little bit too far.
Although the ultras firm UltrAslan is apolitical, anti-racist and does not condone violence, a handful of its members and other ultras of the club have been involved in some serious incidents over the years, most notably at the beginning of the last decade. Galatasaray fans came under mass amounts of scrutiny when, before a 2000 UEFA Cup match, clashes between Gala and Leeds United ultras got ugly, leading to the stabbing death of two Leeds United supporters. The match went on as planned, with a group of Gala supporters causing the club to come under fire again for jeering during condolence announcements. Tensions between English and Turkish supporters continued to mount as a result of the incident, resulting in a series of stabbings in Copenhagen prior to the UEFA Cup final, a clash between ultras from Gala and members of Arsenal's The Herd.
However, they also staged official peaceful protests during the club's administrative shakeups in the middle of the last decade.
Cardiff City Soul Crew (Cardiff City)
Like Leeds United, Cardiff has a pretty notorious track record for banning orders. The club had 160 banning orders against fans as of 2004, a pretty astonishing number, with 118 fans being arrested that year at the grounds.
Nowadays, the Soul Crew is trying to get away from its hooligan reputation and refashion itself as a welcome space for fans of all stripes, but as said on its website: "Mind you, when the SC were hooligans we were up there with the best, and a trip to Cardiff can still be a bit fruity if you come looking for it."
Firman Boys (AIK)
Stockholm-based AIK is one of the most well-supported and successful clubs in Sweden and, as a result, has a number of supporters' groups ranging in activity, among them the Black Army and the Ultras Nord. But one stands above the rest: Firman Boys, a fierce firm that has drawn some comparison to Millwall's Bushwackers.
A 2002 brawl between AIK and IFK Göteborg fans resulted in the first death in Sweden from football violence, a Göteborg fan. Making the Firman Boys all the more intimidating are their ties to the world's most notorious motorcycle gang: the Hell's Angels.
Can we just also observe that someone in this video is hitting someone else on the head with a chair? Not sure if the Firman Boys are actually the ones responsible, but still...yikes.