Football & Identities
A Mediterranean collection survey
The “Football & Identities” collection survey represents three years of investigation, conducted from 2014 to 2016 in 10 Mediterranean countries : Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Italy, Israel, Morocco, Palestine, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.
Four humanities researchers – Christian Bromberger, Abderrahim Bourkia, Sébastien Louis and Ljiljana Zeljkovic – in some cases accompanied by a conservator – Florent Molle – and photographers – Giovanni Ambrosio and Yves Inchiermann – collected more than 400 objects, some 3,000 photographs and more than 6 hours of video recordings. The collected object and photographs will, upon their return from the field and after being studied, be presented to the Mucem’s Acquisition Committees, who will decide whether or not to include them in the public collections and put them on display.
Football, a reflection of our contemporary societies
Football is more than a game. It is simultaneously the most popular sport in the world, a performance, a globalized economy and a rather faithful reflection of the contemporary societies in which they are evolving. So it was almost natural for the Mucem, as a societal museum, to take an interest in this sociological phenomenon. An ethnography of social belonging, that is expressed during football matches, was initially launched in 2014, namely through a study of derbies, those matches during which two clubs from the same city confront one another (in Algiers, Casablanca, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Mostar and Tunis, for example). Our interest then turned more specifically to the “ultra” movement, a youth sub-culture that is present throughout Europe and the Mediterranean (with surveys conducted in Algeria, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, the West Bank and in France, in Marseille).
This research programme, dedicated to the study of contemporary practices in terms of supporterism, has supplemented the work done to enhance the collections carried out on the art market and with private collectors, and to more broadly document the history of Mediterranean football. Thus, since 2015, the Mucem has acquired the official poster for the opening match of the 1930 World Cup between France and Mexico, the shirts of a number of great players (like Alfredo di Stefano, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, Zinédine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo) and objects representing Marseille’s supporterism.
All this research and these acquisitions fuelled the idea and the course of the football exhibition “We Are Football”, that the Mucem will be presenting from 11 October 2017 to 12 February 2018, closing out the event for Marseille, European Capital of Sport.
During the surveys, marketing products supplied by clubs, clothing (t-shirts, scarves and badges) and supporters’ objects (pennants, flags and stickers) were collected, along with archives and objects created and used by ultra groups (banners, membership cards, fanzines, newspapers, DVDs and match tickets).
All the collected objects are supplemented by audio and video interviews, reports and detailed notices that the Mucem now keeps in its archives, available to anyone at the documentation centre of the Centre for Conservation and Resources (CCR), located in the Belle de Mai district of Marseille.
Here, we wanted to use two specific examples to demonstrate the interest of the collection surveys carried out as part of the “Football & Identities” programme, for a societal museum like the Mucem.
Birth and spread of the Ultra movement in Italy : the examples of Genoa and Latina
Investigators : Sébastien Louis and Florent Molle
Dates : November 2014 and February 2016
The tifoso invades football stadiums
Football came to Italy in 1880, imported by British sailors who played the sport in the ports where they stopped. In 1891, the Internazionale Foot-Ball Club Torino was founded by Eduardo Bosio, an Italian merchant specializing in the textiles industry in Great Britain, when he returned to settle in his native region of Turin. However, it was only after the First World War that the sport truly began to spread in the peninsula, supported by its economic development and an increase in free time. The tifoso, which literally translates as a “person with typhus”, began to invade football stadiums. At the turn of the 20th century, typhus was still a widespread illness, whose symptoms were similar to the bearing of a passionate supporter: a cyclical fever state, headaches, torpor and stupor. By extension, tifo designates all the animation at the stadium, and tifoseria, all of a given team’s fans.
At that time, and sometimes under pressure from the political powers that be, the various small city clubs would unite their forces behind the same sense of local belonging. In the larger cities like Rome, Turin and Milan, two teams divided the favours of two factions of antagonistic supporters, giving birth to derbies in the peninsula.
In 1946 Genoa, the Società Ginnastica Comunale in Sampierdarena, founded in 1899, merged with the Società Ginnastica Andrea Doria, founded in 1895, to give rise to the Unione Calcio Sampdoria. That team became the rival of the Genoa Cricket and Football Club, founded by British businessmen in 1893.
In the towns, a single football club would survive. This was the case of Latina, in Lazio Province: built in 1932, at the impetus of Mussolini, under the name Littoria before being rechristened Latina in 1946, one year after the Unione Sportiva Latina Calcio, the city’s football club, was created. A sporting rivalry then developed with the neighbouring town’s club, Frosinone Calcio, some 40 km away.
In Italy, it was only in the 1950s that the first clubs of supporters were truly established, whose memberships would increase substantially in the 1960s. Associations started to stand out for their more exuberant, more active support, with their younger members kitting themselves out with pans, air horns, flags, megaphones and large crates to coordinate the stands’ chants and tifos. At the clubhouse for the Ultras Latina 1972, yellowing photos helped our hosts to remember their history. As our conversation continued, they mentioned a crate of air horns created from reclaimed materials in 1972, which they agreed to loan to the museum for the “We Are Football” exhibition.
A real age group
In Italy, the major socioeconomic changes of the 1960s were felt in every domain. Youth was at the heart of this upheaval, forming a real age group for the first time, united by the same culture, through music, clothing and leisure, whilst the consumer society made its appearance. Introduced to the rite of the football match by their fathers, young tifosi quickly freed themselves of that tutelage during their adolescence, soon joining with their peers to support their favourites. In a conservative society like Italy was at the time, parents saw them going to the stadium with youths of the same age in a positive light, seeing football as a model of family consumption, far from the rebellious intensity of the urban sub-cultures that were proliferating in Great Britain at the same time, like the Teddy Boys, the Mods and the Rockers. And yet, the Italian youth were changing the experience of a football match, not only by actively supporting their favourite teams, but also by organizing that support on their own.
The Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni (UTC) of Genoa is one of the oldest groups of Italian ultras that are still active today. Its origins date back to the 1969-1970 season, when a group of friends from the Genoan neighbourhood of Sestri Ponente founded the Ultras to support Genoa’s Sampdoria team. The group would later adopt the name of the left winger Ernesto “Tito” Cucchiaroni, who played for Sampdoria from 1959 to 1963, after joining forces with a declining circle of supporters from the Sampierdarena neighbourhood, the Sampdoria Club Tito Cucchiaroni. As underscored by Franck Berteau in his “dictionary of supporters”, the UTC even claim responsibility for coining the term “ultra”, supposedly inspired by graffiti
from the 1960s that is still visible on the Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Genoa: “Unitti Legneremo Tutti i Rossoblù A Sangue”, a phrase whose initials form the word “ultras” which means, “Together, we will beat all the Rossoblù [red and blue, the nickname of their Genoa CFC rivals] until we draw blood”.
During our field surveys, we met with Claudio Bosotin and Walter Patrone, who founded one of the first groups of ultras in Italy in the late 1960s, unwittingly giving impetus to a whole cultural movement. Surrounded by photographs, Claudio and Walter told us about their teenage years and the advent of the phenomenon. Over the course of the interview, Claudio Bosotin donated a rosette in Sampdoria’s colours, that his mother made for the 1972-1973 season and that he had attached to the largest hand-held flag at the time, measuring 11 metres high by 7.4 metres long, unfurled for the first time in May 1973 during the Sampdoria-Napoli match.
Years of Lead
As the societal phenomenon of the ultra movement was born, beginning in the 1960s, Italy entered a period of intense political conflict dubbed the Years of Lead, during which the country’s youth took a more radical stance against the conservative Italian State. The emancipatory ideals of university students encouraged them to challenge their academic institutions’ authoritarianism, that they then extended by criticizing capitalism, the State, the fatherland, religion and the family. The subversive spirit that was released in the universities, veritable seats of protest, was soon propagated to the public arena, and activists took to the streets and squares. Socially, the situation was characterized by growing unrest and by a profound political crisis. The country was also shaken by a wave of terrorism – the “strategy of tension” – which began in December 1969 with the explosion of a bomb in Milan’s Piazza Fontana that caused 16 casualties.
The political and social climate of those years influenced our young supporters. They no longer wanted to join traditional supporters’ clubs, but rather aspired to create their own organizations. The ultra pioneers adapted characteristics inspired by the small extraparliamentary groups that were then animating the peninsula: the sense of cohesion and camaraderie, conflictuality, and defiance of the powers that be. They stood out for their provocative, violent behaviour toward their political adversaries and anything that might embody the State and its symbols. From the public squares, this spread toward the football stands which became a new stage for expression.
Beginning in the early 1970s, names and symbols from that extremist political sphere became more frequent in the stands, although they were more a source of inspiration and a matter of appropriating names and symbols than the immediate expression of a political culture: for example, the terms “Brigades” and “Commandos” were almost systematically assumed by the ultra groups that were forming throughout the country in the 1970s.
Alongside the term “commandos”, which enjoyed clear success, military and political vocabulary was recurrent for groups both on the far left and far right. In Latina for example, the Falange group was inspired not only by the name, but also by the emblem, of the fascist Spanish paramilitary group.
Floating now between apoliticism and public political stances
Today, ultra supporters usually proclaim their apoliticism, even though they sometimes take a public position, namely against police repression and the tessera del tifoso, the “supporter’s card” that has been required by the Italian authorities since 2009 in order to better identify the tifosi and strengthen security measures and access controls at stadiums.
The Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni recently did this through a symbolic action in 2013. A t-shirt that the group produced for its members showed a tagger writing the name “ultras” on a wall, a commonplace practice for those supporters when they want to leave their mark on the urban territory. Next to him was a poster reading “Liberta’ per gli Ultras” (“Freedom for Ultras”), a slogan that is typical of the heavily repressed ultra movement. The local authorities considered the shirt to be violent, leading the UTC to make a second t-shirt, almost identical to the first, with a “censored” stamp across the problematic slogan and with
Article 21 of the Italian Constitution printed on the back, reiterating the right to freedom of speech: “tutti hanno diritto di manifestare liberamente il propri pensero con la parola, lo scritto e ogni altro mezzo di diffusione” (“everyone has the right to freely express their own thoughts through speech, writing or by any other means of delivery”).
Is football in the Balkans still the scene of ethno-nationalist tension ?
By Florent Molle
Football “condenses and plays out theatrically the cardinal values of modern industrial societies”, as Christian Bromberger1 reminds us. In the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, a number of football matches have proved this.
13 May 1990 : Dinamo Zagreb vs Red Star Belgrade
This was the case, for example, of the match between the Croatian team Dinamo Zagreb and the Serbian team Red Star Belgrade that took place at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on 13 May 1990 and that lives on in everyone’s memories.
At the Croatian Parliament, Franjo Tuđman had just been elected President of the Republic of Croatia during the first multipartite elections in the history of the country. His plan aimed to create an independent Croatian nation-State within the “natural, historical” borders, namely including a portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the Serbian side, Slobodan Milošević, president of the country since May 1989, opposed any disintegration of Yugoslavia and wanted to preserve the borders of the State, within which all Serbs could continue to live “under the same political roof”.
Although the fans’ support for these nationalist plans was not,
initially, a done deal, it would gradually – albeit in a relatively short period of time – come to be established2 : the Bad Blue Boys (BBB), Dinamo Zagreb’s largest ultra group created in 1986, favoured Tuđman whilst the Delije (“valiant” or “brave” in Serbian), supporters of the Red Star, positioned themselves behind Milošević. Zeljko Raznatović, a common law criminal, was co-opted by the secret services to lead the Red Star’s ultra group, the Delije. Under the nickname Arkan, he would head a Serbian militia knowns as Arkan’s Tigers during the Yugoslav Wars, recruiting from amongst the supporters that he led.
On that 13 May 1990, Maksimir Stadium became the tragic scene of this political confrontation that materialized in a terrible fight that broke out between the Croatian Bad Blue Boys and the Serbian Delije, symbolically marking the start of the Croatian War of Independence3.
1 Text published under the title of “Through the Looking Glass of Football” in the book edited by Marion Demossier, The European Puzzle. The Political Structuring of Cultural Identities at a Time of Transition, pp. 119-140. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007, 236 pp.
2 For more information, see Ivan Djordjevic, 2012, “The war did (not) begin at Maksimir: an anthropological analysis of the media narratives about a never ended football game”, Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU 60:2.
3 On 17 August 1990, 13 Croatian towns dominated by Serbs and the Serb Democratic Party proclaimed their independence in the name of a “Serb Autonomous Region”, placed under the leadership of a Serb National Council.
10 October 2014 : Serbia vs Albania
Today, football still bears witness to nationalist tensions that still persist in the Balkans. On 10 October 2014, the Serbia-Albania match that took place during the qualifying round for the 2016 World Cup had to be stopped before the end of the first half, after a drone disrupted the match. It was waving a flag bearing the two-headed black eagle, the symbol of Albania which dominates the map of “Greater Albania”, that depicts all the territories with Albanian residents – including parts of Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – as part of a single State. The face of Ismail Qemali, the founder of the modern Albanian State, appeared on the flag, along with a reproduction of a photograph of Isa Boletini, an Albanian nationalist and the leader of Albanian representatives in Kosovo in the early 20th century.
When the drone reached the players, Serbian defender Stefan Mitrović attempted to detach the flag. The Albanian players then tried to retrieve it before Serbian supporters invaded the pitch and came to blows with Albanian players, including the team captain, Lorik Cana. The referee was then forced to stop the match.
Because it brings teams head to head that represent States or political forces that may at times be antagonistic toward one another, and because the sport became a real media production beginning in the 1970s, a football match can highlight the political tensions slicing through societies as they symbolically face off on the pitch.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the way football was organized bore witness to the nationalist tensions that recently traversed the region, as shown by a collection survey conducted in Mostar.
Mostar, the Yugoslavian ideal in the Dayton Peace Agreement
Before the war of 1992-1995, Mostar had been the symbol of the Titoist ideal : “Bratstvo, Jedinstvo” (“Fraternity, Unity”) between the peoples and nations of socialist Yugoslavia. According to the last Yugoslav census, taken in 1991, Mostar’s population of 126,600 was one third Bosniak, one third Croat and one fifth Serb (also with a very large proportion of Yugoslavs : 15% in 1981 and 10% in 1991), and its inhabitants bragged that they had the highest rate of mixed marriages in the republic. And yet, one of the bloodiest episodes of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina played out in Mostar.
After the death of Marshal Tito in 1980, and in a context of economic crisis, the Yugoslavian political scene began to
organize increasingly are community-based and nationalist demands, leading to the break-up of the federation and the creation of new States. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a referendum that was held in February 1992, and boycotted by the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, saw 63% of the voters who turned out voting for the country’s independence which would be declared on 6 April 1992, whilst the independence of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was declared the following day, plunging the country into genuine conflict.
In Mostar, during the first part of the war, the Croat and Bosniak forces formed an alliance to oppose the Yugoslav People’s Army (Jogoslavenska Narodna Armija – JNA), under Serbo-Montenegrin command (April 1992-May 1993), that bombed the city from the surrounding hillsides. That alliance was then broken after the Croat nationalist leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina formed an autonomous Croatian Community in August 1993, with Mostar as its capital city. From that point onward, conflict broke out between the former allies, causing the city to be divided in two, between the Croats in the west and the Bosniaks confined to the east. One of the first manifestations of violence between the two camps played out at Bijeli Brijeg Stadium when the Croatian Defence Army locked Bosniak civilians and military personnel inside the stadium. Some of them were executed whilst others were taken to the Dretelj and Heliodrom prison camps. Since that era, the city has been divided, with the western part primarily populated by Croats and the east by Bosniaks. The line of demarcation is the Bulevar Narodne Revolucije (Boulevard of the National Revolution) a few metres from the Neretva River. The destruction of the Ottoman Stari Most (Old Bridge) by the Croatian militia on 9 November 1993 remains the symbol of that divide.
Signature of the Dayton Peace Agreement in November 1995 put an end to the war between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, dividing the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into two autonomous political entities: the Serb Republic of Bosnia and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The new Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognized three “constituent” peoples: Bosniaks (Bošnjaci), Croats (Hrvati) and Serbs (Srbi), as well as three official languages: Bosnian (bosanski jezik), Croatian (hrvatski jezik) and Serbian (srpski jezik). It should be noted that this is a single language that now bears three different names but was known as Serbo-Croatian before the war. The Bosniaks, designated by the term “Muslims” (Muslimani) during the Yugoslavian era, were Bosnians of Muslim faith, while the Croats were Catholic, and the Serbians, Eastern Orthodox4.
The political divides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were sealed by the Dayton Peace Agreement, were reflected in the organization of professional football. In the early post-war years, there were three separate national leagues, and it was only in 2000 that the clubs of the Croato-Bosniak Federation came together in the same league. They were joined by clubs from the Serbian Republic in 2002, the date that marked the creation of a Championship and a League for the entire country.
These changes have had an effect on the city of Mostar, whose two clubs Zrinjski and Velež played in Sarajevo in 2000, for the first time since the war, when the Croat and Bosniak leagues were unified.
4 Stéphanie Rolland, “Autochtones étrangers : les déplacés à Mostar après la guerre de Bosnie-Herzégovine”, Balkanologie [online], VIII:1, June 2004.
Collection survey in Mostar
Investigator : Ljiljana Zeljković
Date : September 2014
Velež Football Club
The Fudbalski Klub Velež (Velež Football Club) was founded in 1922 as RSD Velež (Radničko Sportsko Društvo – Workers’ Sports Association). The club borrowed its name from one of the mountains overlooking the city of Mostar, rooting it firmly in its geographic topology. During the Second World War, dozens of members of that club died on the side of the partisans. During the Second Yugoslavia (1945-1992), Velež was part of the country’s revolutionary project and was one of the top clubs in the country, with its greatest success achieved in the 1970s and 1980s. It was mainly known as a symbol of the city of Mostar and of the unity of its citizens, but was beloved and supported beyond the city limits, throughout Herzegovina.
Velež’s original badge was a red star, the symbol of communism, encircled in yellow, containing a football and the words, “RSD Velež Mostar 1922”. Above that emblem was a silhouette of Mostar’s Old Bridge. From 1995 to 2005, the red star was replaced by the bridge on top of a football but, at the request of the Red Army’s supporters, whose group was founded in 1981, the star was reinstated on the badge in 2005. Since the war, some have considered the club to be a Bosniak team, and one of the reasons for restoring the old badge was to mark the continuity between the Yugoslavian Velež and the Velež of today, and to anchor it fully in its heritage. Velež’s supporters are also called Rodjeni (Natives), but that name also designates the club’s players and the club itself.
In the 1970s, Velež began to play at Bijeli Brijeg Municipal Stadium, newly constructed by the citizens of Mostar through collective actions (Radne akcije). That stadium is the second largest in Bosnia and Herzegovina today, after the one in Sarajevo, with a capacity of 25,000, including 9,000 seats. The club ceased to exist in 1992, after it was expelled from its stadium by the Croatian Army during ethnic cleansing actions in the west of the city.
The Croatian Army used the stadium to detain the Bosniak population that was arrested at the start of the siege in May 1993. The team was re-established in 1994, in a context in which “its” country – Yugoslavia – no longer existed, and in a Bosnia and Herzegovina where ethno-national divides prevailed over the old Yugoslavian motto of fraternity and unity, which would make the club a target of nationalist policies5. Today, Velež trains at Vrapčići Stadium, in a town to the north of Mostar.
5 For more information, see Richard Mills (2010) : Velež Mostar Football Club and the Demise of ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ in Yugoslavia, 1922–2009, Europe-Asia Studies 62:7, 1107-1133.
Zrinjski Football Club
Soon after the expulsion of the Velež Club, Bijeli Brijeg Stadium became the home of the Hrvatski Sportski Klub Zrinjski (Zrinjski Croatian Sport Club) and adopted that club’s name. The club’s management, made up solely of members of Croatian nationality, signed a contract with the municipality – in the hands of a Croat party – for a 110 year lease. Zrinjski is the name of one of the greatest noble families that played an important role during the period of the Croatian battles against the Ottoman army and the Habsburgs. According to the official (albeit contested) history of HSK Zrinjski, the club was founded in 1905, under the Austro-Hungarian occupation, and lasted until 1945 despite a number of interruptions. Given that, during the Second World War, the club played in the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska), an ally of Italy and Germany, and that its managers and players were openly pro-Ustashi, the socialist powers banned it after the Second World War. In 1992, the club was reformed in Medjugorje, a small town outside Mostar.
Zrinjski’s badge is a blue circle containing a white laurel wreath, the red and white Croatian draughtboard, and the words “Zrinjski 1905 Mostar”. The inscription of the date is revelatory of a desire to create historical continuity and to boost its legitimacy and representativeness by presenting itself as the city’s oldest team. That date is challenged by those who consider that the club emerged in 1992, out of violence and war, as the result of a Croat nationalist plan of exclusion and homogenization. The Zrinjski Ultras supporters’ group was founded in 1994 and regularly makes headlines in Bosniak newspapers, which associate it with the Croat far right. Zrinjski’s supporters, who have adopted the eagle as their emblem, call their players Plemići (Noblemen). All these components bear witness to the importance that HSK Zrinjski’s supporters and managers place on their Croat membership6.
6 For more information, see Stéphanie Rolland, 2013, “De la violence guerrière à l’affrontement symbolique: agonisme sportif et communication interethnique dans les Balkans”, International Journal of Violence and Schools, September 2013, 118-139. In her analysis, she remarks that HSK Zrinjski and its supports defend “an ethno-nationalist identity, a historical reference through the use of the name of a national hero, a symbolic revenge on the communist past of HSK Zrinjski, a right wing orientation and the colour black to represent the ultra supporters who demand an ethnically homogeneous territory (Croat Herzeg-Bosnia)”.
During a six day collection survey conducted in September 2014, I met with several Zrinjski Ultras members during three interviews: all six people were among the ultras’ emblematic figures, although none would assume the role of leader, which would be a foreign concept to their group and to the principles of the ultra movement. Three people had a public university degree (a computer scientist, an engineer and graduate in economics and public relations) and were working at public and private corporations, two of them had a high-school diploma, and the last was in high school. Thanks to a trusted recommendation, plus the fact that the survey had been commissioned by a museum (rather than the media, to which they would never grant an interview), they gave me an interview during which they said they were aware of their bad reputation and lamented the prejudices against football supporters in general and against the ultras in particular.
On two occasions, I was also able to meet with active ultras supporters of Velež, members of the Red Army, where I was present at the same time as two teams of journalists (one of which was French), and I then spoke with former club employees, one of whom was a collector of items relating to the club and to the author of a monograph of the club. I was also granted an interview with a former member of the Red Army, and another two with Velež supporters who were not part of the group but whose life history was closely entwined with that of the club. They all regretted Velež’s poor ranking, which visibly affected the lower attendance of spectators on the terraces, but they confirmed that they have just as much passion and love for the team and that they “will never give up” on it. They all stressed the indissociable link between Velež and the city of Mostar and elevated Velež to the rank of a symbol of the city, along the same lines as the Old Bridge.
“Almost a match like any other” ?
At the derby held on 27 September 2014, which I attended, and during the supporters’ rally that preceded it, there was a very substantial police presence around the stadium and even elsewhere in the city centre, but the supporters and inhabitants alike emphasized that “today is much better”, the situation “has calmed down” and that it was “nothing like the warlike atmosphere that was seen in the first years of the derby”. All the same, many residents feared a major incident, because the elections were about to happen, and any accident that could be interpreted in “ethnic” terms (regardless of the truth of the matter) would benefit the nationalist parties on both sides. Apart from a few seats ripped out, which the stadium’s management donated to the Mucem, and a large quantity of flares along the way, the derby came off with no real hitches. Many supporters of both teams shared comments after the match that could be summarized as follows: “People are expecting blood to be spilled during the match, and when they see that it’s almost a match like any other, they are disappointed and don’t come back”. However, even when there is no “blood” during a match, the tensions felt throughout the city and the property damage caused by supporters outside the stadium, which are repeated each year, are precisely why many refuse to go to the derby, which they consider to be too closely associated with political conflict and which continue to symbolize the city’s political divide.
All the members of the Zrinjski Ultras agreed that, for them, each match was equally important and they needed to give it their all for each one, “but we realize that people are only interested in us for the derby”. They invited me to “come with us to Ljubuški in two days, and you’ll see, the same number of us will be there, with the same flags and the same flares”. Although both clubs’ supporters tried to minimize the importance of the derby, instead emphasizing their “love of the team” and to avoid lending too much interest to the opposing side, football fans and regular citizens did not experience the derby as a “simple match”, choosing not to participate because of the violence and political hijacking that it invokes.
But the ethno-nationalist tensions highlighted by the media nonetheless underrate other structural problems experienced by supporters on both sides. Over the course of our conversations, the topics addressed really had little to do with matters of ethnicity, and ordinary supporters expressed their love of football or of their team in a non-ethnic way, or else complained about the country’s economic position, the lack of strategic, long-term investments in football, political manipulations, the early and massive exodus of young talent – or young people in general, the absence of training structures, the existence of corruption, and so on. The more active supporters – members of the Red Army or the Ultras – mostly spoke of their “trampled rights”, their poor relationship with the police, the fact that they have sometimes been denied access to the stadium because “that blasted State” did not have the resources to “guarantee our safety”, they claimed, and of how preventing them from attending a match was the worst possible punishment for them.
A six day survey focused on acquiring interesting objects and on conducting as many interviews as possible is not enough to effectively establish the links between supporterism and political struggles but, regardless, that is not the aspect of themselves that the ultras that I met wanted to show. For example, some Zrinjski supporters, as well as one of their former members, suggested that I join them at the stadium the day after the derby to watch the matches of the Hei League (a regional junior league). A young woman in charge of the league explained that, each Sunday, children from Velež and Zrinjski, and from all the rest of Herzegovina, come to play together while their parents chat and watch on: “Great things are happening here, but no one is interested... Journalists only take an interest in our clubs and come to film the stadium when there is a fight or ‘ethic tensions’, as they put it”.
At the same time, although the supporters want to show themselves to be independent of politics, it is undeniable after reading the studies on both clubs that the political sphere has attended to both Zrinjski and Velež and that Zrinjski’s strong results are not without their ties to the support of the main Croat nationalist party, just as Velež’s difficulties can be linked to the absence of political support: a club that presents itself, at its supporters’ request, as a club of “workers on the left [...] does not serve the cause of any official policies in this country”7. Although football provides “a singularly rich pool for anthropological investigation, thanks to its deep framework, the issues that it crystallizes, the behaviours that it raises and the behaviour that it encourages”8, the Mostar derby, the complicated histories of both clubs, the inability for Velež to return to Bijeli Brijeg Stadium, and its fight for survival from one year to the next all testify to the determination of the dominant policies in effect in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the past three decades now, to erase any linguistic, cultural, sporting and political options that do not fit squarely into ethno-national checkboxes.