A World of Ultras: Raja Casablanca

A World of Ultras: Raja Casablanca

WELCOME TO CASABLANCA, Morocco’s biggest and most densely populated city. To the majority, it is best known as the setting for arguably Hollywood’s finest film; however, the city also plays host to one of the continents greatest football clubs, as well as their universally notorious fans. This is Raja and the famous Green Boy Ultras.

From day one, Raja Casablanca has prided itself on being the club of the people and has become the beating heartbeat of the city. This mantra has been instrumental to the largely positive relationship with supporters, who are widely accepted as Africa’s most passionate ultras. The fact they are also involved in the continent’s fiercest local derby is another huge contributing factor to their worldwide notoriety.

The club was established in March 1949 as an outlet for the city’s working-class youth to show their displeasure at the nation’s political structure of the time and also as direct opposition to city rivals Wydad Athletic Club, who tend to represent the middle classes. These sentiments are highlighted by the eagle emblem, which signals ideologies of strength and resistance, while the club’s choice of green colours symbolises hope. Nobody could argue against the intentions of the founders.

As is the case in many territories, Raja was more than just a team and served as a way for young people to identify themselves by congregating with a united adulation. Unsurprisingly then, the club boasts teams in a number of sporting disciplines. Nevertheless, the football team has always been the nucleus.

Throughout the early years, Raja was a fitting homage to its fans as struggle off the pitch was mirrored perfectly on it. In fact, the club didn’t lift its first Moroccan league title until 1988. Despite that lack of success, though, the supporters remained loyal and slowly became regarded as one of the country’s most distinguishable ultra firms.

That first league success was a springboard for future triumphs, allowing Raja to grow into the biggest club in Morocco – some would argue in the whole of Africa.

Those victories not only helped their domestic ascent. Continental success, which in turn led to two Club World Cup appearances, unleashed the club onto the global stage and they’ve garnered plenty of praise for it. While the standard might not rival that of their European and South American counterparts, fans across the planet can appreciate the style of play deployed by the Moroccans. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the ecstasy of passion demonstrated in the stands.

The Green Boy Ultras are one of the most visual groups of supporters in world football. Not only do Raja’s attendances dwarf those of other Moroccan sides, their level of excitement is second to none. On any given match day, the Stade Mohamed V transforms into a cauldron as thunderous chants pierce the air on a sea of green smoke. With thousands jumping on the terraces, dressed in club colours, the stadium’s south stand is one of the most vibrant in world football. On derby day, the atmosphere is cranked up another notch.

While WAC were founded more than a decade earlier and enjoyed the much greater success during the early years, Raja’s rise to prominence in recent years has allowed this local rivalry to evolve into one of epic proportions on the pitch as well as off it. The fact both clubs share the same ground only further enhance the levels of passion on any given derby day.

The Casablanca derby is an eternal war of the classes and the atmosphere generated by both sets of supporters is utterly mind-blowing. This is easily the biggest local rivalry in Moroccan football and the importance of a victory is palpable, which creates for an intense aura as an entire city is engulfed by the passion of these two great clubs. The party starts at both ends of the ground long before kick-off and the noise doesn’t die down until long after the final whistle has blown.

Meticulously organised tifo displays will appear at both ends of the ground to leave neutrals absolutely speechless. The action on the pitch might not be of the elite standard, but the atmosphere in the stands stands shoulder to shoulder with the best on earth.

The Raja support arguably edges it due to the importance of the club to their lives. The green smoke fills the Casablanca sky with hope and those thoughts are echoes by the incessant chanting of these working-class heroes. A blanket of togetherness unites thousands and that bond extends well beyond the 90 minutes, which adds an extra allure to the Green Boy Ultras.

That universal appreciation of the Raja fans was definitely increased during their two Club World Cup campaigns. While an inaugural appearance in 2000, which included a well-fought match against Spanish giants Real Madrid, set the foundations for the world to acknowledge the Moroccans, it was their run to the final in 2013 which really saw the Green Boy Ultras win hearts. Despite falling behind to a formidable Bayern Munich just minutes into the contest, the Casablanca fans were outstanding throughout the 2-0 defeat and showed a level of intensity that most people outside of the continent had never previously seen from an African club’s following.

On that night, we saw everything that is great about the beautiful fans as the passion, unity and love of the Raja fans provided a memory perhaps even more memorable than Bayern Munich’s win. Domestically, though, there is a huge problem with hooliganism in Morocco and the country’s biggest club are often involved – both as the victims and the perpetrators.

The problems aren’t limited to clashes with rival supporters either. It isn’t uncharacteristic to see poverty stricken fans attempt to enter stadiums for free; failure regularly leads to collisions with stadium staff and police. This is a nationwide pandemic, but the working-class youth of Raja are certainly vulnerable to these occurrences.

Raja have been caught up in a number of altercations in recent years, with many of the most notable coming when their side meets rivals FAR Rabat. Only 80 kilometres separate Casablanca from the capital. The fierce on-pitch rivalry between two or the nation’s biggest clubs has transcended into mayhem in the stands and on the streets several times.

In February 2009, 14 fans were imprisoned following a January confrontation between the two clubs. Four years later, over 200 arrests were made due to public vandalism, muggings and fights broke out across the city – although the majority of those troubles stemmed from the travelling Rabat supporters. Nonetheless, the Green Boys aren’t afraid of physical battles and are more than ready to fight.

That willingness is born from their affiliation and love of the club and its morals, though, and it is hard to resist their charm. Their high levels of passion were possibly best demonstrated in November when the whole south stand stood together to display a series of organised tifos, which instructed players to ‘Fight for Raja, not for money’. In fact, their reputation as one of the world’s most fanatical supporters was highlighted when they were named third place in the Ultras World list of best fan groups for 2014.

Generally speaking, Moroccan football has slowly faded off the radar, thanks mainly to the national team’s failure to reach a FIFA World Cup finals since the 1998 edition. The success of Casablanca’s working-class club has virtually kept the country’s sporting credibility alive and the importance of their phenomenal fans simply cannot be overemphasised.

Raja’s Green Boys Ultras: the heartbeat of an entire continent.

By Liam Newman. Follow @thatliamnewman

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