MATHS IS SEEN AS THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE, something that everyone can recognise no matter where they are located on the globe. Yet to many, maths is that thing you had to endure during your school years. It’s pertinent to ask, can something equally loved and loathed really be considered a universal language?
There is, however, something that can lay claim to the moniker of the universal language – it’s the sort of thing that you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who hates it as much as people do maths. That thing, of course, is music.
While not everyone will agree what the best genre of music is, there is at least something out there for everyone, unlike maths (if you hadn’t guessed already I’m not a fan of the subject). Music is something that can transcend cultures and bring people together; it has also played and continues to play a surprisingly leading role in the world of football.
Even though the role music has played in football is unquantifiable, the relationship at times has been fraught with difficulties. On the one side you have songs like You’ll Never Walk Alone or the Champions League intro, which have now become iconically associated with the game. Visit any stadium in Europe on a given weekend and the chances are that you’ll be surrounded by fans signing their hearts out.
The flip side of this is the awfulness of loud, pointless music being blasted out of speakers after a team scores, or the downright awkwardness of the inevitable World Cup anthems.
Still, football and music do link up quite well. Nowhere can this be evidenced more than in one sector of the footballing subculture, the ultras. To many, ultras are seen as thugs and hooligans, not seen as true supporters but ones only there looking for a fight.
To many more, however, ultras are a key ingredient to the sport because it is they that bring the atmosphere and the noise, and as is so often pointed out, football without fans is nothing. The origins of the ultras movement is clouded in doubt, with many claiming to be the first.
The Torcida Split group of Croatian club Hajduk Split are generally agreed to be the first organized ultras. For many, however, it is Italy that is seen as the birthplace of the movement as a whole back in the late 1950s early 60s. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is not totally relevant anyway. What sets the ultras aside from a normal fan is their fanaticism, as the name would suggest.
The goal of the ultras is to create an intimidating atmosphere that strikes fear into the heart of the opposition, while also motivating their own team. How do they achieve this? The answer is through the medium of chanting, or to put it another way, by singing. They also do it in other ways, such as pyrotechnics, but once again this can all be linked back to music.
It may be unlikely when you look at an ultra group in a stadium belting their hearts out that your mind would turn to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven being played by an orchestra. On deeper inspection, though, this is very much what it appears to be.
Picture in your mind an orchestra on stage about to perform before its waiting audience, and what do you see. Firstly, perhaps you’ll notice the conductor standing to the fore with his back turned to the people he is there to entertain.
It is the conductor’s job to keep everything in order and to lead the musicians through each segment of music. Secondly, you may notice the different sections to the orchestra. Of course there are many more elements to it, but now cast this image over into the world of the ultras and what do you get? The answer is something that is strikingly similar.
They are all gathered together in one spot; your eye may even catch one or a number of men with their backs to the pitch, facing the crowd. These men are known as the ‘Capos’ and are the de facto leaders of the ultras in the stands.
The role of the Capo is to get their fans singing and putting on a performance for the intended audience. The Capo and the conductor are essentially performing the same task. It is both their aim to lead and get the best from their performers.
For the performers, like in an orchestra, you have various people playing different instruments, and the same can also be said for the ultras. Some use their voices, some use drums while others even bring trumpets. Going back to the pyrotechnics, can their loud bangs and explosions not be compared to a Timpani section in a musical piece?
What’s more, the ultras do not just look like an orchestra, they very much sound like one. Here are a number of great examples:
Call and Response: This is a style of signing in which the call by one singer is responded to by another. Its fascinating origins are believed to be from Africa. Here is a group from the Maasai Mara region in Kenya showcasing Call and Response:
Now here are Parma’s ultras performing a similar act (note: it’s not the most complimentary):
Imitation: Where a melody in one part is repeated a few notes later in a different part, overlapping the melody in the first part which continues. Demonstrated here by the Red Blue Eagles ultra group of L’Aquila (skip to 54 second mark):
Crescendo: This is when the music starts out at a low volume before gradually increasing until it reaches a dramatic climax. An example of it in classical music is ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by Edvard Greig:
Now compare the slow rise of the classical piece to its eventual dramatic conclusion with the Ajax fans outside the stadium before a match demonstrating something remarkably similar (skip to 4:30 min mark):
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Whatever your opinion on the matter, it is almost impossible to deny that music plays an integral part in the world of football. Rarely is this more strikingly witnessed than in one of the worst punishments that can be handed down to a club – to play behind closed doors. Without the fans in the stadium egging their side on, football is nothing.
Conversely, having fans inside a stadium that make no noise and sit quietly, as if in church, is just as pointless. For this humble writer, fans should be loud and boisterous, and no group can match these qualities quite like the ultras.
Indeed, it is hard to see the stereotypical ultra being a big classical music fan, but they don’t have to be, because every weekend these ultras make their way to the stadium to put on a show. It may not be Mozart or Beethoven that they sing and play, but what they produce has its own unique style, and for today’s generation that have not been brought up to listen to or know classical music, the ultras are their orchestra for the modern age of football.
By Kevin Nolan. Follow @KevinNolan11