love them for it.
I bang on about 'ultras' a lot on these pages but with good reason. These are the fans responsible for bringing noise, humour, colour, vibrancy and passion to stadiums. Without the ultras - matches would be played against a backdrop of silence - as often occurs in the Premiership. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal may get tens of thousands of fans through their turnstiles but unless it's a derby or another European glory night, you could hear a pin drop in the stands at most matches.
So as top flight football in England becomes further obsessed with money and alienating their own fan base accordingly, I've turned to the non league for my domestic kicks.
So how about a group of ultras who combine the passion of our European cousins and follow a team in the nether regions of the football pyramid - step forwards the Jorvik Reds of York City - a winning combination in our book. The Jorvik Reds are our new best friends here at European Football Weekends, they've followed the Minstermen through thick and plenty of thin over the last few years spreading a riot of colour along the way.
York City have flirted with relegation from the Football Conference this season. Relegation would have resulting in them pitching up in the Conference North for the first time in their history. That would have mean more local derbies than the Jorvik Reds could have shook a 40 metre 'Come On City' banner at but alas they should survive the drop this season, just.
So ahead of York City's visit to the Dripping Pan this Sunday for their last match of the season against Lewes, I thought I'd interview our friends from the Jorvik Reds to see what they are all about:
How long have Jorvik Reds been established? Since 2004. This coming July will be our 5th Anniversary.
How many members do JR have and what is the criteria for becoming a new member? We don’t have ‘members’. We have a core of 30 who are always with us, and we can have up to 100 with us at some games.
How has the group developed over the past few years? Since 2004, we have improved a lot. Before, we were performing small displays. But now, we have lots more people involved, and are pulling off big and effective tifo. We also have a wide range of merchandise also available now.
What do York City FC (the club) think about JR? Are they supportive or do they keep a distance? We have had problems with them in the past, but at the end of the day, we need the club, and they need us, and many of the people at the top of the club love what we do.
Do tifos and other displays have to be permitted by the club(s) or do you bring the material into stadium(s) and test the attitudes of the stewards on the day? At home games, we are not allowed certain items, and York City can be very difficult with us. However, at away games, we try to get everything possible in.
Do JR have any influences inside/outside of England and if so why? JR arguably had an affect on the UK scene today. A lot of people from other clubs started seeing our displays, and wanted to copy what we do.
What are the future plans for the group? To carry on supporting York, and to produce bigger and better displays of passion.
What is York City's away support like and how many of those would be made up of the JR? We have one of the best supports in the league, usually around 150-250 at nearly every game, more at big games. Usually around 20% is made of JR.
How do you travel to away games? We run our own coach to most away games. If not, we travel in cars or on the train.
Do you have any rivals - other teams or ultra groups? York as a club do not have many traditional rivalries due to it’s location. Scarborough were a rival, but they have since drifted into obscurity due to financial troubles. Leeds and Hull were also considered rivals, however many see this rivalry as unbalanced due to the differences in size between the two clubs. As a group, we don’t have any rivals as such, but we do like to be the best at what we do.
What is the JR attitude to violence and do you think there is a link between ultras and violence? JR are a non violent group. We never go looking for fights, as that is not what we are about. In other countries, Ultras and violence sometimes go hand in hand, but I think many people have an ignorant attitude towards the word ‘ultra’, associating it only with violence and racism, whereas that is clearly not the case.
What do other - non JR - York City fans think of the group? Overall, I think there is a positive view of what we do. Many fans like the way we go ab out our support.. There are others who don’t like change and who see us as nothing more than ‘idiots’, but they are becoming an increasing minority.
What chance do ultra groups have in the UK given the high ticket prices and the cost of travelling to see away matches? Good question (award winning we like to think - Ed). It depends how much people are prepared to stand up for the cause. If the prices increase, then obviously it makes it difficult for the ultra to travel to games. However, I believe that if enough people stand up to the clubs in this modern age, then the traditional fans can eventually reclaim it for themselves.
Do you think Premiership clubs will embrace the ultra scene or do you think UK ultra groups will be confined to the downstairs of the football pyramid? I think the best groups will be confined to the lower leagues. Should safe standing be the brought in, we could see a change in this, but it doesn’t look likely that it will happen any time soon. The stewarding is more relaxed than in the top flight, and there also seem to be more people willing to get involved during the lower leagues.
Ultra groups vary from country to country. How would define 'ultras' in the UK? Do you think they differ from their European counterparts? Ultras in Europe have a lot more tradition, and it is written into their football culture. The big groups often have hundreds of members, whereas in the UK, most have less than 50. I don’t think there is a big difference when you look at the whole picture, it is just the fact that the ultras in Europe have a lot more power to influence, and seem to be able to get away with more than we can in the UK.
Do ultra groups in the UK have political tendencies? Some do, some don’t. Celtic and Rangers will always be politically influenced because of their history. However, I don’t think that any of the other groups in the UK are fiercely political one way or the other. The JR is apolitical. York, then everything else.
What are the aims of ultra groups in the UK in general? Do you fight against high ticket prices, terracing, changing the kick off times, banning orders or do you just go for bigger and better displays and try to increase the atmosphere at games? Of course we aim to support our club first of all by way of displays and singing, but there is more to ultra than that. It is about standing up for what you believe in, 24/7, not just in the football stadium, but throughout life. The ultra must battle against repression from people who want to stop us doing what we do, and of course we must stand up for ourselves in the face of modern football, which is ruining our game.
What are the relationships like between opposing UK ultra groups? We realise that sometimes we must help each other, as it is only good for the scene to have new groups emerging. However, at the end of the day, we started with nothing, so others should also do the same, and not come constantly searching for ideas from others.
Is there an age structure for UK ultras? Is it mainly young lads or can anyone join in? Anyone can join in. We don’t discriminate on age, as it is only the love for York that matters. In our group, the majority of people are about 18-23. We have some who are older than this, but also some younger people as well. We also have a few females, one of who is high up in the group.
So there you have it. You don't need huge numbers, far from it. You just require bags of enthusiasm which is what the Jorvik Reds have in abundance - good luck to them!
Thanks to Christian and Wendy for answering my questions. For further reading, photos and videos check out the Jorvik Reds website www.jorvikreds.blogspot.com which is standing in for their own website www.jorvikreds.co.uk which is currently being upgraded.
www.ultrasuk.co.uk is the place where all UK Ultra groups tend to gather.