Among their own

Vibrant fans, loud chants and gigantic banners are the staples of every football game, and they are at least as important as the game itself. True fans will use anything to support their favourite team: pipes, t-shirts, flags, make-up, drums and elaborate costumes.
Share 19 October 2015
Atletico Madrid fans show their colours during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid, Spain, 2014

Scarves and T-shirts: How to be Part of Your Favourite Team, and Where the Beatles Come in

In Europe, stadiums never saw any football paraphernalia until after World War II, when scarves with club colours came into vogue. The Beatles did a lot to popularize the new fad, when the four then-most famous persons on the planet appeared wearing the red scarves of their favourite FC Liverpool in a photograph. There was no way for this to go unnoticed.

In time, club scarf-making grew into a huge industry. They call them “roses” in Russia. According to one of the more convincing explanations, the name comes from “rosette,” which is what, in Europe, they call a club-colour ribbon pin on the chest. Apart from the traditional scarf, promoting just one team, quite popular are the so-called “double-dealers” – scarves supporting two teams at once. Double-dealer scarves are made for selective, most critical games. The most loyal and active fans usually have their own name-scarves. A name- rose is a reward from the fan community in recognition of the fellow-fan’s advanced track record of fanhood and his many travels undertaken to see his favourite team in action.

FC Zenit's fans during the 2015/16 Season Russian Premier League match between FC Zenith and FC Rostov © Vyacheslav Evdokimov/TASS

Some fifty years ago, clothes in the colours of a football club were the privilege of a select group, and there weren’t many such people in the stalls. Today club merchandize is a key revenue stream for the team. Club stores are jam-packed with every possible version of the team’s uniform, boots and footballs, not to mention t-shirts. A fan can have his own name printed on a club t-shirt instead of a name like Messi, Ronaldo or Hulk.

Luis Suarez and Messi shirts at the FC Barcelona official store, Barcelona, Spain, 2015© David Ramos/Getty Images

One t-shirt is not enough for a real fan. Football clubs use two or three sets of outfits, choosing the appropriate one for every game, depending on the colours of the opposing team and the game venue. For example, if the red and white Manchester United plays the red and white Spartak in Manchester, the host team gets to choose its uniform. If the “Red Devils” feel “devilish,” they will pick their primary colours, and Spartak will have to resign to being all-white. But if the same game is in Moscow, the colour privilege will be reversed. Clubs will usually warn their fans in advance, e.g. by posting photos of their uniform choice on a social network, and the stalls will be filled with fans wearing the right colour t-shirts.

Flags and Banners: Unlimited Ambition

A “rose” held aloft may not be sufficient for the fan to express how he feels. In this case, flags and banners will come to the rescue. A flag or banner may be a one-time affair, manufactured for a specific game (e.g. a national team game or a derby), or they may be reusable, good for several games.
Fans of Dortmund during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and Energie Cottbus at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany, 2009 © Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

When it comes to the size and shape of a team banner, only the fans’ ambition is the limit. The fans of Colombia’s Los Millonarios once surprised the arena and the world with a 750-meter banner in the colours of the Colombian national flag, which they rolled out during their team’s match with Brazil’s Corinthians. It had taken a few years and 120 million pesos to manufacture the humongous banner. It didn’t help much though: Los Millonarios lost.
Fans of colombian "Los Millonarios" at the game against brazilian "Corinthians" featuring the Colombian flag, 2013 © losmillonarios.net

What to Do in the Stalls to Get Attention

Fans may not need a lot of “aids” to tell the world how they feel about the game or the players. In Spain, when the fans start waving white rags in the stalls, this is their way of demanding that the head coach or the club’s president resign. The fans of the rival teams of Madrid’s Real, and fans of the national team of Portugal, would chant the name of Barcelona’s bombardier, the Argentinean Leo Messi, during matches for months, in order to taunt Madrid’s key player Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sometimes fans are prone to overestimating their influence on the progress of the game. Real’s Ronaldo once confessed he never even notices what goes on outside the field during a game. “What happens in the stalls doesn’t concern me at all,” he said. “The people there cannot provoke me or affect the way I play. I never think about them.” Leonid Slutsky, who coaches Russia’s national team and Moscow’s CSCA, believes that players who claim they never pay attention to how the stalls react, are not being quite honest. “When we win a Russian Cup or some other championship, the players will have a lot of fun singing those chants later. They’ll bawl them on the plane all the time. Never mind that the verses are sometimes less than appropriate.”

Singing and Dancing, Pipes and Drums

But no matter what, their voice and musical instruments remain the deadliest weapons in the hands of football fans worldwide. In England, the birthplace of football, fans are accustomed to not using any extra implements, just chanting their team’s anthem. You have to give them credit for singing very well. Their singing is a model, and sounds amazing even on TV. If you hear You'll Never Walk Alone, sung live by Liverpool’s fans, you’ll never forget it, while the match score may be forgotten in a week. British fans were positively forced to “discover” their vocal talent: the laws are so stringent in Britain all they’re left to do is sing, sing, sing.



In Brazil, where football came from Britain in the early 1900s, there is no singing without dancing, and there’s no dancing without drums, tambourines and/or other instruments. But it’s the drum that’s become the key appurtenance of a football match. In Brazil, fans have recruited professional musicians with instruments to play during football matches, sometimes deploying what they call “carnival batteries,” since the 1930s, when Brazil (well before England) got its first organized football fan communities. The batteries get a dedicated section of the stalls at every stadium, but it may be dangerous to sit too close to them: their exuberant performances will sometimes get out of hand. In Brazil, every major football game is preceded by a music concert, and ends with a carnival, festive or mournful, as the outcome of the match dictates.

Brazil fans play drums ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group G match between Brazil and North Korea at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2010 © Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The world’s most famous football drummer is a Spaniard named Manolo aka El Bombo, which means “Drum.” He first got in the limelight during the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, and hasn’t missed a single major tournament ever since, tagging along with the Spanish national team. Manolo and his drum witnessed Spain’s football triumph at the 2010 World Cup and the European Cups of 2008 and 2012.
Fan Monolo of Spain poses after the Spanish Team arrives at the Dortmund airport prior a play in the Group H during the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany © Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

The notorious vuvuzela is perhaps the only instrument capable of outshining Manolo’s drum. The football world discovered the vuvuzela at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The long pipe was all the rage in the first days of the tournament. The sound of a vuvuzela is sharp and unpleasant. The sound of many vuvuzelas is a loud buzzing chorus, like an enormous swarm of bees over the stadium.
Ghana fans blow vuvuzelas prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group D match between Serbia and Ghana at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, 2010 © Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

This traditional African method of supporting a football team made it to other continents, where it met with revulsion and resentment. Many countries banned the vuvuzela, and eventually the pipe wasn’t “cool” anymore. Sometimes we’ll hear the vuvuzelas again, but only when an African Cup game is on TV.

An Outfit with a History

Many football fans prefer to express themselves without the aid of music. One of the most eccentric fans, the Colombian Gustavo Llanos aka el Cole, has earned notoriety with his condor costume. Few people may remember el Cole’s real name, but the flapping of his “condor wings” has accompanied the Colombian team all over the world for more than 25 years. When the “coffee” team scores a goal at a World or Americas Cup game, they will often show el Cole on TV, swooping down menacingly on the camera. El Cole makes money on his love of football, selling ad space on his “condor wings.”
Colombia's fan known as El Cole during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Quarter Final match between Brazil and Colombia at Castelao, Fortaleza, Brazil, 2014 © Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

Spain’s Manolo and Colombia’s el Cole, both highly eccentric fans, draw on the same source of inspiration: their passion for football, the same passion that will inspire the fans at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Painting the stalls and their faces the national colours, they’ll get their own creative fest going, rivalling the events in the field in glamour and intensity.
Russian fans prior the game between Russian and Sweden in the 2016 UEFA European Championship Qualifying Round Group © Valery Sharifullin/ТАСС