Here we provide a selection of excerpts from the Football Is Life book, with chapter titles given in bold.
The quality of football has never been in doubt in the super classicos. Barcelona and Real Madrid don’t do mediocrity. This book, though, is not about quality football. It’s all about going back to basics and experiencing proper old-school football cultures and the atmospheres generated by genuine grassroots supporters, in particular the Ultras, a much-maligned worldwide fan movement responsible for the birth of extreme fandom over sixty years ago.
Meet the Sopranos
In the early 1980s, the most prominent units of Gravediggers, Commando, Kop Crew and Old Guards, pioneered the formidable Kaznena Ekspedicija, the most dangerous group in the former Yugoslavia. The Riot Squad, a 500-strong mob of terrace revolutionaries, brought about a new crowd dynamic to the Yugoslav football scene and thrust the south stand into a prolonged era of violence and skulduggery. They were the country’s first organised football firm and they travelled the length and breadth of the former Yugoslavia and beyond to support their team during a period of what can only be described as pure footballing madness.
They have an old school mentality and despite their much publicised indiscretions that portray them as ‘wrong ’uns’, all have a genuine love for their football club. Partizan is in their DNA: cut them in half and they will bleed black-and-white blood. They were perfect hosts and treated me like family. When you make friends with the Grobari, you have a friend for life, and I have. Make them your enemy and you really could end up sleeping with the fishes!
The two sets of supporters despise each other to such a degree that the game is perhaps now more recognised for their inherent violent behaviour that has blighted the most acrimonious grudge match in the Dutch calendar. It becomes very difficult to define a loathsome cultural rivalry that’s larger than football itself.
On 15 April 2004, the never-ending culture of hatred between Ajax and Feyenoord football thugs reached a humiliating public nadir. Scores of Ajax hooligans invaded the pitch after a reserve team game between Ajax and Feyenoord played at the Ajax De Toekomst sports complex. They attacked the Feyenoord reserve team on the way back to the changing rooms.
‘We would have needed airborne troops to get between them,’ a local police chief told Dutch radio. Feyenoord’s chairman, Jorien van den Henrik, said it was ‘a black day for Dutch football’.
Rajmund and Remik R.I.P.
Rivalry matches are a Polish specialism and the Silesian region harbours one of the most prolific grudge matches in the country.
Once word of this horrific act had spread amongst Ruch fans there was talk of a smierc za smierc (death for a death) mentality and police feared the worst. Fortunately the inevitable visceral reaction never materialised.
The Green Mile…and a Half
There are no friendly neighbours on match day, just disciples of the enemy.
Times journalist Rick Broadbent quoted Sousa Cintra’s rant at Robson: ‘You don’t go there,’ raged the president. ‘We hate them.’ That was before he barged uninvited into the Sporting dressing room at half-time in the derby game and offered to double his players’ win bonus.
Desperately Seeking Dinamo
Cue the primeval roar and the welcoming horde we had befriended only a few hours earlier, had become instantly radicalised and surged forward into the busy carriageway.
Despite the obvious threat of grievous bodily harm, brought about by our unenviable but self-inflicted predicament, we had no immediate regrets. Because as Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) quite rightly points out to Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), during one of the most iconic movie scenes of the twentieth century – We didn’t have to be here, we both knew the risks. It rains … you get wet! (Heat – 1995)
Despite an eternal rivalry between the supporters of Zeljeznicar and Sarajevo, there is a united front in the fight against the endemic deceit that manifests itself deep within a crooked cartel that are meant to be the custodians of the national sport.
Zoff led the way to the south curva, also known as the holy south, home of the hard-core Maniacs 1987, the legendary fan movement responsible for creating a derby-day atmosphere that borders on insanity.
Notoriously repressive, these heavily armed officers are considered an abusive, militaristic law-enforcement outfit whose agent-provocateur policing is often the catalyst for brutal confrontation.
No One Likes us… We don’t Care
As punishment, the Jewish element of Ferencvaros was ripped out of the club. In its place, Andor Jaross, the Nazi minister of the interior, became president of the Fradi and the fascization of Ferencvaros was complete.
Big rivalry games evoke a gamut of emotions from an expectant audience. In two short minutes the mood of 11,000 supporters changed from sadness and despair, to euphoric and relieved and vice versa.
Players and coaches often complained of intimidation and feared for their safety from the well-organised and ruthless network of ‘violence entrepreneurs’ that monopolise the terraces of the Ulloi and continue to thrive because the law is weak.
Les Enfants Terribles
Most supporters believe the enmity between the two teams, who had no history of rivalry, was forged in the boardroom during the early 1990s.
Meanwhile, PSG and Olympique Marseille will remain the best of enemies and Derby de France will continue to be played out in a hostile and poisonous atmosphere, with or without the Ultras.