Throughout Europe, fan bases and ultras groups seem to reside to certain sects or political backgrounds. Some football teams are actually born out of political coups or military coups. In this article, I’ll explore the political links between clubs and their fan-bases from all over Europe, and why they have affiliations with other fan bases from different countries.
The most obvious one you would think of is Celtic and Rangers, one being separatist and catholic, the other being unionist and protestant. Decades of hatred and an “it’s us or them” mentality has fuelled this derby into a world renowned fixture. However that isn’t the only political or ethical grudge Celtic hold. Celtic, being a left leaning fan-base, have sparked up a feud with Ajax Amsterdam, a club with a large Jewish fanbase. Ajax and Celtic often meat in the European tournaments and with Ajax flying the Star of David flag throughout games, there would be no doubt it would get under the skin of the Celtic faithful who are extremely pro Palestine. Ajax – Celtic fixtures have resulted in many arrests in both cities and the owner of the Hoops bar in Glasgow to be hospitalised. It didn’t stop there with Celtic though, as they drew Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Champions league, the green brigade organised to display many flags of Palestine, which resulted in UEFA actually fining the club £8,615 for displaying a political message. The Green Brigade responded with a ‘match the fine for Palestine’ campaign and raised over £130,000 and donated it to charities involved with Palestine.
With World War 2 carving up much of Europe, and with the fall of the Soviet Union, many teams were bread out of certain sects, Partizan Belgrade is a good example. Partizan is a sporting club and covers the majority of sports, even karate. This was the sporting camp for the Yugoslav military, and was set up after the countries communist secretary of sports dissolved all pre war teams. Their bitter rivals, Red Star Belgrade, were also formed after the war due to the dissolving of the pre war teams. Red Star was set up by a group of men who saw themselves as antifascists and were very politically inclined. This derby was brought about by the two outlets of government, communist political government, and the military wing. Throughout the Balkans region you are able to see the different ethnic division and to what club they affiliate with, although since the break up of Yugoslavia, the political messages are more on the national scale now, and with Kosovo becoming a recognised participant country under FIFA, it will only heighten tensions in the regions footballing world.
Unlike the Balkans where the divisions are nationalist and ethnic, Germany and Holland boast some of the most diverse fanbases for political affiliations. Borussia Dortmund made their political stance known in recent times during the refugee crisis, the yellow wall, and the players both held banners with the words “Refugees welcome”, as did St Pauli, who’s fanbase is quite famous for its leftist socialist and punk ideals. In the same league, you have Hamburg, who have strong ties with Rangers and greeted Celtic with a “No Surrender” banner with a Union Jack flag card display which resulted in the club being charged with improper conduct. All over we see connections as in this match, Hamburgs local rivals St Pauli, were in the Celtic end, and Hamburg fans were wearing Rangers shirts for the return leg.
The lists can continue on as fans of S.S Lazio of Rome have ties with Zenit in Russia, Feyenoord have ties with Sunderland, Millwall and Rangers have ties. The affiliations go on and on, some of them heavily political, some of them due to rivalry through the years of european tournaments.
The question is though, who would Newcastle United, and Geordies in general, be linked with either culturally or politically?
My personal opinion is Athletic Bilbao from the Basque region of Spain, the area shares similarities with Newcastle and the North East of England. The region has it’s own language and I appreciate the Geordie dialect isn’t a language, it is still only spoken and easily understood by Geordies, as well as many Geordie words and phrases that are more linked to Celtic and Scandinavian origin. The region wants separation from Spain as they don’t see themselves as typically Spanish, they have their own history and identity. I believe that to be similar here too, I bet if people were asked the question – Do you feel more at home in London or in Edinburgh? The answer would be Edinburgh, we share very little identity with the south. Newcastle United played against Bilbao in 1994, and a bond was created between fans of both clubs, the majority of Newcastle fans that went say it’s the best away day they’ve ever been on, and it also tempted the likes of Julen Izagirre Garnika, of the Basque Mags, to fly over and support the Toon.
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