Wait Till We Get to the Hills

January 17th, 2016

Florian Nussdorfer from Fanzeit wrote an interesting article about our group last season.
Here is the link to the original article.

What follows is a rough translation:

A Lesson in Ultra

Soccer fans in the USA? Sitting on their fat asses, stuffing themselves with hot dogs, and making, at most, a little noise when the ice cream man is nearby. At least that’s the stereotype. Yet in the last few years, quite a bit has been done in the States when it comes to atmosphere: visually and audibly there are even parallels to be recognized between the supporter groups of American Major League Soccer and the local Ultra groups in this country, thanks mainly to a little help from Europe. Yet how authentic is the still young ultra culture in the USA?

When Dan Margarit came from Romania to the USA 15 years ago, he must have felt like someone who listened to heavy metal his whole life suddenly ending up at a Justin Bieber concert at his first San Jose Earthquakes game. In Romania, Dan was a member of the notorious Armata Ultras of Steaua Bucharest , which, with up to 4000 members , was the largest ultra group in the country. This group’s rules at Steaua games were basically the opposite of what Dan found in the USA. With the Armata Ultras, strict smoking, eating, drinking, and sitting bans ruled during the games. The fans were supposed to concentrate fully and entirely on supporting the team. But now it’s noise makers instead of pyro, nice family atmosphere instead of going nuts in the stands.

“Developing an ultras group from a fanbase that only makes noise when there’s free t-shirts or burgers was pretty hard and frustrating.”

Because he missed the ultra culture of his homeland at the games in Spartan Stadium, Dan decided to form an ultra group based upon the European model in 2003. However, there were definitely some difficulties in the beginning. “Developing such a complex creation as an ultra group out of a fanbase who only makes noise when there are free t-shirts and burgers was pretty hard and frustrating.” Dan says looking back. However, along with some fans with South American roots, a few local supporters became interested in the new, chaotic mass in section 135 who stood and continuously rooted for the team the entire game. However the new-ultras still definitely needed some help in terms of support: “We really had to start from scratch with these people,” Dan remembers. “They asked why we were supposed to wave flags, why we were supposed to sing for 90 minutes, etc. They really had no clue.”

Yet in time, the group made progress and in September of 2007 received unexpected reinforcement. The “1906 Supporters,” who until then had supported the second division California Victory, joined with the San Jose Ultras after their club left the league after only one season. That sounds absurd in this country, but it is definitely not unusual in the USA. That’s because there aren’t any clubs, per se, that play in MLS but franchises. Simply stated, that means whoever feels like having professional soccer and has the necessary cash available can submit an application to join the league. There is no promotion and relegation.

“We are an inconvenience.”

But how does this overcommercialized-to-the-point-of-bursting league fit with the “against modern soccer” mantra of the Ultras? Not very well at all, according to Dan. “The whole world is changing and soccer is just a part of it,” he says. “Passionate fans like us are supposed to be driven out to make room for consumers who behave like robots.” In fact, the Ultras are everything but loved by the league officials and clubs. Dan suspects,“Because we always say what we think and refuse to act like puppets.” “We are an inconvenience.” As such, there was often conflict in the past with management because the San Jose Ultras made fun of other groups with their tifo. Dan is particularly annoyed by the behavior of the Timbers Army. Instead of responding with their own banners, each time they would complain to the local media and league management and demand stadium bans for the San Jose Ultras.

As it is, the San Jose Ultras don’t think very much of the Timbers Army, but they are among the largest and most well-known supporters groups in MLS. And yet precisely those supporters groups who, according to Dan, may gladly use the stylistic elements of ultras, yet work together behind the scenes with MLS and the clubs to make life difficult for the “real” ultras. However, as far as supporting the team is concerned, Dan thinks the supporters groups have a considerable amount of catching up to do. “Most groups don’t sing more than three or four interchangeable chants per game and there’s way too much drumming. The groups all look the same and sound the same.”

Ivan Fernandez, who works as a freelance journalist in California and concentrates intensively on the ultra movement in the USA, confirms that the supporters groups work together with the FO much more closely in comparison to the Ultras. “The supporters groups are well-integrated with the clubs and they conform exactly to the corporate identity of their teams.” In this way, some supporters groups even support their clubs at promotional tours and advertising campaigns. The Ultras, on the other hand, are more politically motivated beyond the unconditional support of their team than the supporters groups.

2,500 kilometers to an away game

However, at times, the idea of unconditional support pushes both Ultras and supporter groups to the limit – above all geographically. The great distances between the venues in MLS make it virtually impossible to show up to all of the away games of a club as a complete group. Nevertheless, Dan and his people try “to represent at every away game whether there’s 5 or 100 of us.”

But the fact that the ultras in the US also deal with rather similar problems as their European counterparts is shown on the subject of pyro: “Some clubs are more tolerant when it comes to using pyro, others less. Ours belongs to the latter. We were threatened with punishment for crimes like arson or domestic terrorism if we lit off pyro,” reports Dan. And even though it hardly plays a role in MLS, the subject of violence also affects the stadium visit. “There are a few measures to prevent violence like, for example, restricting tifo or the freedom of ultra groups,” says Dan. A supporters group for LA Galaxy, The Angel City Brigade, had to recently experience these measures firsthand. Because a few streamers flew onto the pitch during a tifo, the group was banned from using any kind of fan materials until further notice.

“Ultra is 24/7”

In spite of these strange measures, soccer and its fan culture are on the rise in the US. The audience figures are steadily rising. In 2014, the average was around 19,000 spectators per game, above that of the 2nd Bundesliga. Even clubs with large stadiums like the Seattle Sounders regularly play before more than 40,000 fans and also many smaller stadiums are usually well attended. “With the sport, the fan scene also grows,” says Ivan Fernandez. And with the fan scene the culture of the ultras and supporters groups will grow accordingly. Where this development of subcultural fan scenes in carefully-styled MLS will lead should be exciting to watch. At any rate, when asked what ultra means to him personally, Dan ultimately responds with a statement that most ultras in this country would also certainly subscribe to: “Ultra is a lifestyle, a collection of principles and convictions. Ultra is 24/7. The friendship and the ideals within an ultra group are unique.”

Todays TIFO

June 29th, 2014

For the first time in the 11+ year history of the 1906 Ultras, we decided not to bring a tifo into the derby. It was a difficult decision in light of the love we have for the Earthquakes. However, the relentless and increasing harassment we’ve been enduring for over a year from our FO has persuaded us to do the unthinkable.

stanford-today

Why should we bring in a tifo, and pretend everything is fine, when:

  • we still have innocent members banned from attending matches
  • every single one of our suggestions for the supporter section in the new stadium was rejected
  • our anniversary tifo was butchered because key elements were excluded due to FO lies
  • numerous banners were confiscated or rejected in the past year, including the preseason game in Fresno, even though they didn’t violate any rules
  • we attempted to compromise and send images of our tifo/message banners for review, they were rejected for arbitrary reasons though they didn’t violate any rules.
  • a significant number of our membership canceled season tickets, because they were tired of the hostile attitude and constant abuse from the FO
  • the Director of Stadium Operations sends the police to threaten a man in his 60′s who was helping out with our flags
  • we are constantly harassed and threatened to have our “privileges” taken away for the flimsiest of reasons
  • all of the hard work, time, and money we pour into the team is met with hostility instead of gratitude
  • we are treated like domestic terrorists when it comes to checking in our flags, drums, banners, etc.
  • our members (community leaders, doctors, students, etc.), who are guilty of nothing, have files kept on them simply because they belong to our group. As if we were a criminal organization
  • we are under constant surveillance by the police at our tailgates, in our section, and marching into the stadium
  • any attempt to reasonably solve these issues through discussions are sabotaged by lies, ulterior motives, and clueless middlemen
  • there’s a litany of other annoying and disrespectful actions coming from the FO that can go on forever…

Unlike most of the groups in this league, we are not a roving sideshow of attention-seeking clowns that’s here to amuse everybody, nor are we puppets that cower and obey when the strings are pulled. We will never lower our standards and self-respect to be like them no matter how badly you want us to be. Furthermore, some fundamental principles need to be clarified.

We do not do tifo to satisfy your need for advertising imagery or because you want to impress some suits who aren’t from here. We do our tifo for the love of the team and the city of San Jose — period. If we want to do a banner honoring a player or do something inspiring for the team, we will. If we want to do a banner insulting the visiting team and their fans, we will do that, too. Maybe you’re ok with 200+ visiting fans marching into our stadium and making themselves at home, but we can assure you that we and the majority of our fellow Quakes fans are not. Ask the Quakes fans who have to sit next to the visitors’ section how they feel about it. We have never done and never will do racist or homophobic tifo nor have we ever used vulgar language in our messages. We have consistently created many memorable world-class displays over the years that have added to the rich history of the team and stand among the best that this league has ever seen, so there is absolutely no reason for this continued censorship.

You are overdue for a reminder that it is a privilege for you to have us — not the other way around. We spend thousands of dollars on beer, season tickets, and merchandise; travel thousands of miles every season; spend weeks in the freezing cold and blazing heat painting banners that we pay for out of our own pockets; and make every sacrifice possible, from destroying our vocal cords to missing out on time with our families to help our team win at every single home game. The only thing that we ever ask for is to be left alone to do our thing — just like how things were for 10 years until you inexplicably declared war on us. If you want to continue to censor, harass, and threaten us, we hope you’ll be satisfied with “19740 Years of Quakes” or a tiny tarp with the old Quakes logo on it that can never seem to be held flat, because that is the alternative. If the standings are any indication, the teams needs you to focus your resources on improving conditions for them to fully utilize their talents instead of being petty tyrants to a group of loyal fans.

– The 1906 Ultras