A blog about sociology, written by students in Doha, Qatar.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
The tifosi are one of the most interesting cultural phenomena in Europe. The word tifosi has Italian roots and literally means supporter or enthusiast. These groups of people are supporters of football or basketball teams and their unconditional love and loyalty towards the club is to say the least outstandingly interesting.
The tifosi or Ultras are far more than just sport spectators; they have norms, rituals, language and leaders which constitute a culture. It is a socially constructed system of values which is embodied in recognizable form. They have taboos and a system of sanctions enforced by the very group. They have totems and symbols with which they define their identity. From a sociological perspective, they can be classified as an ingroup most accurately because of their astounding loyalty to the club as well as the hatred towards opposing rivals. The sense of collective effervescence which is a shared feeling of identity among its members strengthened by the emotional bond with the club is the main driver of these groups making the hugely popular amongst the young population, and difficult to abandon by older members.
This is what a tifo group actually looks like. I briefly mentioned the norms above, but I will now elaborate on them to show why it may define them as a culture. The first and most important norm of a tifo group is that you always stand and never sit during a game. This is what distinguishes them from regular sport’s spectators. Sitting during a game while on a tifo section of the stadium may result in severe social sanctions such as comments from group members around you or even a violent removal from the stand’s section. Another norm is that one always follows the leader’s instruction to sing the chant he starts. The tifo sactions of the stand are extremely loud which enhances the notion of collective effervescence and the adrenaline rush of singing in unison with hundreds of fellow members is sensational. Also, a norm is to wear the team’s color’s or merchandise to the game, but recent subgroups such as casuals break the norm and wear brand name clothes to make it more difficult for the police to identify them in the case of chaos. The logic is that police discriminates based on appearance which represents social class. The norm is also to stand your ground in case the group is attacked. Fights among groups happen constantly, and in fact one of the greatest fights in tifo history is said to have marked the beginning of the Yugoslav war between Serbian tifos and Croatian tifos. These are only some of the norms embedded in the tifo culture but there are many more to say the leasts.
Totems are prominent in the culture and they are expressed through banners representing the groups. The tifo group’s name and the club’s name are written across them and they are main symbols of the group. Some of the banners are decades old and are a crucial part of the group. If a group loses the banner, the unwritten code of the Ultras is that the group must disband. Banners are captured by attacking the stand where the other member group is based in or even devising carefully planned schemes to steal them. Banners are not the only target, any sort of merchandise is targeted and losing merchandise hurts the group’s reputation.
However, beyond the negative context of this culture; these groups play an important role as well from a functionalist approach. Functionalists view social worlds as stable orderly and systematic and that everything has a purpose. Society according to this theory is a the equivalent to a machine and everything has its own role. So what is the role of the violent havoc creating problematic tifosi? They make sure that traditional landmarks such as football clubs for a city remain free from corruption and the best example for this kind of effort are the Grobari of Partizan. They battled the management of the club for over a year because of large corruption going on within the club such as fixing games, delaying salaries to players etc. They used their vast membership to popularize the issue and save the club from demise. They sang chants about the management and put them under immense pressure resulting in their resignation and the beginning of a new era for the legendary club of Partizan Belgrade.
To sum up, it is obvious that this is a culture within a culture which we can modestly describe as an ingroup. It has negative even destructive aspects, but ultimately these individuals are driven by blind passion and collective effervescence. As a former regular visitor of Skopje's Smugglers I remember the first game i decided to stand instead of just sit and watch. As soon as the game began, we started the oldest chant we have about our club and a big banner was raised above me which had the name of our club. Another banner was put down which said "Sloga, I cannot live without you!" It was then when I understood the power of collective effervescence and what it feels to be a tifo; to jump and chant in unison with hundreds for something that we all cherished and loved. This is an under-investigated sociological phenomenon which I find extremely interesting and worth sharing with everyone. This barely scraping the surface of the ultras culture and the tifosi.