The Italian ultras: From local divisions to national co-operation

Mark Doidge

Research output: Working paper


Since their emergence in the 1960s, the ultras have become the dominant form of football fandom in Italian football. Their visual style has been adopted across Europe, particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe and North Africa. The early development of the ultras was characterised by political involvement. Later the identity incorporated violence and extreme localism. Since the 1990s, ultras have been co-operating across traditional political and local divides in order to challenge legislation and assert ‘their’ power over football. Yet this is only in relation to their perceived idea of fandom, not on issues of governance. Drawing on ethnographic research in Italy, alongside interviews with leading fan-activists across Europe, this paper will highlight the development of the ultras and argue that the traditional divisions based on politics and localism are beginning to be eroded. This is being replaced with a more co-operative ‘mentalità ultras’. Affirming Maffesoli’s (1996) argument that society is not becoming more individualised, but in fact new forms of association are emerging. More importantly, these ‘neo-tribes’ are tied to consumption. Fundamentally, these changes are tied to the rapid globalisation of football that took place through out the 1990s. Increasing commercialism tested the ultras’ notion of football fandom. This has also been challenged by an increasingly draconian approach from the Italian government attempting to control the excesses of the ultras. The unintended consequence of these approaches have made it harder for non-ultras to attend the stadium and merely reinforced the ultras feelings of persecution and justification that they are the authentic voice of football fans. Despite this unified mentality, they are not challenging the 3 authorities on governance aspects. They are continuing to engage in the forms of protest they have always engaged in, rather than begin a dialogue.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLoughborough
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

© 2014 FREE and the respective authors


  • ultras
  • fans
  • activism
  • neo-tribes


Dive into the research topics of 'The Italian ultras: From local divisions to national co-operation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this