1312: Among the Ultras: A Journey With The World’s Most Extreme Fans (2020)
by James Montague
When you mention the word “ultra” the first thoughts that come into your mind are usually associated with flares and violence but in 1312: Among the Ultras: A Journey With The World’s Most Extreme Fans (2020) it quickly becomes apparent that these groups are actually far more than this and ought to be considered on a deeper level. These movements can no longer be straightforwardly defined or categorised as typically right-wing, paramilitary or criminal firms associated with world football. Nowadays, ultra-groups are spaces for people with political ideas outside the norm, providing the opportunity to meet more likeminded fans to enjoy football with. That said, football fanaticism still has a darker side. It is uncommon to read comprehensively about football, history and politics all in one place but with Montague’s fourth book, his latest piece of investigative journalism, you are offered a chance to do just that.
Montague’s success comes in his ability to provide the background on how the “ultras” movement came to existence and spread internationally. We see patterns and links emerge with the replication of styles such as the Italian movement in Croatia and Serbia whilst the hooligan culture of 1980s England is revered and still widely sought after across the world. Montague also provides an exclusive dive into nations not known for their “ultra-culture” such as Sweden and Indonesia and others that have been universally mocked for their failed attempts at forcing the creation of such fan culture.
No stone is left unturned throughout the book either, left wing or right wing makes no difference as everyone is treated with the same investigative impartiality.
To some extent, these support groups can even eclipse the reputation of the teams that they have come to represent; when talking about Lazio for example, it can be easier to think about the Irriducibili rather than the players on the pitch. The same can be said for teams right across Europe with leading clubs like Borussia Dortmund more recently held up as an aspirational goal for many English supporters.
Perhaps the most anticipated section of Montague’s text is that which concentrates on the South American fan bases, and in no way did it disappoint. It is fascinating to see how the origins of Hinchas in Uruguay spread and adapted to become Barras Bravas in Argentina before shaping the Brazilian Torcidas movement in a sort of enduring domino effect. Each of these groups, with their own historical beginnings and differing motivations, share a common thread of influence and equally hold some degree of power over their clubs and even club executives.
In an extended chapter on Italy, the homes of some the most (in)famous fan groups in the world are laid bare before your very eyes. Again, each team’s Curva Nord has their own political ideologies which are heavily influenced not only by where the fans come from but even more so by where they want to club to go in the future.
Montague’s source material is presented through meetings and conversations with some of the most notorious leaders from supporter organisations across the world. To be granted access to groups that are normally highly secretive (and particularly suspicious of journalists) is a monumental feat and one that the author himself acknowledges in the opening interlude. Managing to distance himself from everyone he meets, Montague is able to be factual without veering too close to glorification or outward condemnation. No stone is left unturned throughout the book either, left wing or right wing makes no difference as everyone is treated with the same investigative impartiality.
Ultimately, this book is an impressive overview of fanatical football organisations from across the world, documenting how particular factions and movements came into existence as well as the nuances and infighting that typically plagues such groups. From a purely English perspective, this book provides a captivating insight into a now global phenomenon that football in this country has worked incredibly hard to distance itself from.