Key Ultra Groups: Fossa Dei Leoni, Commandos Tigre, Brigate Rossonere, Alternativa Rossonera, Guerrieri Ultras Curva Sud Milano, Avanguardia Rossanera, Curva Sud Milano.
Other Groups: Gruppo Veleno, Estremi Rimedi, Vecchia Maniera, Ultras 1976, Panthers, Boys Assatanati, Il Gruppo Nervus, Il Gruppo the Bull Dog, Il Gruppo Avanguardia, Il Gruppo Barbera, Il Gruppo Zava, Pitbulls, Gruppo Comodo, Gruppo Caramello, Area 207, Armata Rossonera, Bad Boys, Acid Group, Banda Casciavit, Herbert Kilpin Firm, Banda Scalino, Barone Rossonero, Baschi Rossoneri, Black Sheep Group, Bomber Group, Brigate Venete, Brothers, Brutti Dentro, Cani Sciolti, Celtic Devils, Clan, Convinti, Dannati, Devils 1978, Diavoli di Como, Drunk Company Veneto Alcool, Eagles, Fanatic, Fedelissimi Milan, Feroci, Fronte Rossonero, Hooligans, I Diavolacci, Indyans, Kaos, Legionari Tigre, Inferno Rossonero, Mazzo Group, Mods, Nobilita Rossonera, Nucleo Tifosi Rossoneri, Out Laws, Panthers 1976, Ragazzi del ’99 ACM 1899, Sconvolts, Settembre Rossonero, Skunkati, Stars, Teste Matte, Tigers, Torcida Rossonera, Ubriachi di Milan, Vecchi Teschi, Villani, Warriors, Gioventu Rossonera.
While it is never pleasant to see footballers on the end of scathing criticism, when AC Milan Ultras castigated left-back, Kevin Constant, through the unfurling of a banner during their 1-1 draw with Genoa back in 2013, their exasperation was understandable,
“Constant, instead of clowning around and being arrogant, respect those who watch your embarrassing performances.”
Not only were his performances questionable but his off field frivolities – including tweeting pictures at a nightclub on the Friday night before AC Milan’s weekend clash with Genoa – suggested he was less than committed to honouring the iconic red and black shirt. But while there was some justification behind this protest, the criticism reserved for Paolo Maldini during his 900th and last appearance for AC Milan against Roma in 2009 was baffling.
It goes without saying Maldini is a club legend. A product of the primavera, Maldini won five European Cups and seven Scudetti over the course of a 25 year career. Yet after the Italians final match at the San Siro, his lap of honour was soured by a pocket of ultras who expressed their dissent.
"Thanks captain. On the pitch you were an undying champion but you had no respect for those who made you rich," read one of the banners.
"For your 25 years of glorious service you have the thanks of those who you called mercenaries and misers,"
The ill-feelings allegedly stemmed from an angry exchange between Maldini and Ultras who had awaited the teams return at Milan airport following their loss to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final.
The banners were accompanied by a giant shirt emblazoned with the number six, unveiled to the back drop of chanting “There is only one captain, [Franco] Baresi.”
Giancarlo Capelli, an Ultras leader, later remarked “It was not a protest. We just wanted to make it clear what we thought about some of his comments and behaviour over the past years.” Throughout his career, Maldini hadn’t shied from condemning the Ultras whenever they had failed to support some of his teammates and his defence of Silvio Berlusconi’s transfer policy also appeared to irritate the fans.
For us, it is hard to accept that a club legend would be subjected to such treatment, albeit from a minority. However the intensity of this incident reveals the visceral relationship between Ultras and their club. At times it feels like the macho response of a domineering spouse or spurned lover who feels they haven’t been awarded their due respect. While these actions are highly questionable and a flagrant offence to many a football purist, this apparently aberrant behaviour is part of the Ultras fabric.
That AC Milan’s Ultras hold their players to such lofty standards is perhaps born out of the clubssuccess and prestige. Founded in 1899 as Milan Cricket and Football Club by English expatriates, Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin, the Milanisti take great pride in the knowledge that their team is the oldest in the city and one of the most decorated in Europe (facts they are keen to flaunt when they play their city rivals, Inter).
In honour of their Anglo-routes, AC Milan have retained the English spelling of the city’s name and this history is also celebrated by the supporters, most notably when the Ultras choreographed a gigantic banner of Kilpin in his archaic red and black shirt during the Rossoneri’s game against Barcelona in 2013. The display was accompanied by the date 1899 and the message ‘La Storia Siamo Noi’ (We are the history). The supporters may also have Kilpin to thank for the clubs iconic red and black colours and as a consequence their nickname - Il Diavolo (the devil).
The Englishman is said to have arrived at this choice after saying “We are a team of devils. Our colours are red as fire, and black, to invoke fear in our opponents.” Indeed the San Siro can be one of the most daunting arenas in European football and the Ultras of the Curva Sud certainly thrive off theirmenacing moniker. Unsurprisingly, AC Milan’s status means they have a plethora of Ultra groups, none more renowned than the historic Fossa dei Leoni (Lion’s Den).
The Fossa dei Leoni (FdL) were formed in 1968 and are said to be the first modern Ultra organisation in Italy. As such they played something of a pioneering role in the nascent years of the Ultras movement. Although the FdL originally resided on Ramp 18 of the Settori Popolari of the San Siro, in 1972 the group shifted to the Curva Sud and became the heartbeat of the Diavolo support. Accompanied by the Brigate Rossonere (Red and Black Brigade), founded in 1975, and Commandos Tigre (Tiger Commandos) who joined Brigate and Fossa on the Curva Sud in 1985, they formed a triumvirate that made the Rossoneri’s support one of the most eclectic on the peninsula.
To emphasise the FdL’s cult nature, the group had their own song - ‘Leoni Armati’ (Armed Lions), inspired by the Italian film ‘L’armata Brancaleone’. Furthermore in 1982 theyfeatured in the Italian film ‘Eccezzziunale…veramente’, in which actor Diego Abatantuono played the role of the group’s leader, Donato ‘Ras della Fossa’.
Given that the inception of the Italian Ultra movement was inextricably linked with the political activism of the era, curiously Fossa never adopted a clear political identity. It is said some of their members predominately veered towards the left, with images of Che Guevara visible in the San Siro during the groups early years. However many of the Ultras on the Curva Sud have avoided political affiliation and while rifts arose from a difference in ideology between Commandos, Brigate and Fossa the groups led the Curva for 20 years in relative harmony, that was until the FdL disbanded in 2005.
The reason behind Fossa’s dissolution once again beggars belief. The story goes – and there are numerous accounts – that during a game between AC Milan and Juventus in 2005, the FdL managed to steal a banner from a Juve Ultra group known as Viking. Fossa proceeded to unfurl this banner in the Curva Sud as a trophy of their conquest however it later emerged that rather than stealing the banner, the Milanisti had obtained it “Senza Onore” (without honour). In other words the fans hadn’t physically fought to steal the banner and thus this went against what can only be described as an unwritten Ultras modus operandi. The Juventini desired revenge and a few days later an FdL banner was stolen by Viking and posted on the group’s fanzine. The plot thickens. The following Sunday the banners were back in the possession of their owners. Rumours spread that the swap had been organised in agreement with the police, a heinous crime in the world of the Ultras and much to the anathema of the other groups in the Curva Sud.
The FdL ceased to exist, yet the conflict in the Curva Sud went on. Internecine warfare ensued. An AC Milan fan was shot in the legs. Monza magistrates concluded that the attack was part of an internal war amongst Rossoneri Ultras over merchandising and tickets. Commandos and Brigate lived on while new groups such as Guerrieri Ultras (Ultras Warriors)– formed of ex-FdL members – were born. Their motto ‘Neither red nor black, just black and red’ encapsulated their apolitical stance. The peace was eventually restored and now the majority of the Curva Sud has united under the umbrella of Curva Sud Milano. Their headquarters lie in the industrial area of San Giovanni but their members spread across the length of the peninsula.
The infighting, the protests, their unabashed hubris and the revolving door in which groups form and disband all appears rather ludicrous. It is bemusing but undeniably beguiling. In the midst of all the chaos there are codes and rules that must be stringently followed. Its madness but there is a meticulous method to the Ultras madness. Imagine Italian football without them. Imagine the San Siro on a Champions League night without the Curva Sud, the match devoid of incessant chanting, flares, smoke and spectacular choreographies.
In 2010, when Manchester United faced AC Milan in the Champions League knockout phase, Sir Alex Ferguson was left in awe. Not by the superstars on the field but by the supporters in the terraces.
"The one thing that’s so amazing is that for the first 15 minutes I felt in shock, really in shock, because the atmosphere was unbelievable," Ferguson explained. "Coupled with the noise when they [AC Milan] scored, it unnerved me and it unnerved my players. No matter how much experience you have got, you get drawn into that cauldron of noise.”
Therein lies the seductive power of these Ultras.
By Luca Hodges-Ramon - @LH_Ramon25