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If there’s a will, there’s a way: "Violence in football could be eradicated"

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Javier Marcos (Madrid, 1990) of Grade Fans RMCF coordinates Real Madrid's newest initiative to finish off the Ultra Sur. With the discussion about violence in the sport back in the headlines, Marcos criticizes the lack of initiative on the part of Spanish clubs when it comes to barring these fans from the stadium while maintaining that his own group, the Grada, is formed "by supporters, not Ultras."

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Lucas Navarrete: Do you consider yourselves Ultras?

Javier Marcos: No, we don't like the use of that particular word. We chant some old songs by the Ultras Sur, but we switched the word "Ultra" with "hincha" - supporter. In Spain, the word Ultra usually refers to somebody who could resort to violence, even though I know that it doesn't necessarily have that meaning in other languages.

The Ultras Sur were imprisoned three months ago; a fan was killed outside Atlético de Madrid's stadium right before a match; there were violent incidents between Dutch and local fans in Rome ahead of a Europa League tie; and racism in Paris by a group of Chelsea fans. Why has this been happening lately?

Europe is going through a severe financial crisis and there are a lot of people out there who rely on the sport to provide happiness for them. Some of them insult the players on Twitter but others take it one step further because of their extreme ideology. I believe that it is quite difficult to eradicate these groups because of certain trends in European culture. If this ideology is present in our society, it will be present in football as well.

So you think this is some sort of cultural phenomenon?

No, not only the Ultras, but also the decay of our society. It's part of the system, there are criminals everywhere, but here they happen to be football fans.

What kind of requirements you need to fulfill to be part of the Grada?

The season tickets for this area of the stadium offer us some advantages when compared to the rest of the allotment. They're cheaper and you don't need to be a socio to get them. But as you say we also feel the need to take carry out certain obligations. The most important is to cheer the team throughout the whole match. For example, someone in the Grada might not want to applaud Gareth Bale after a play, but if the speaker chooses a song, you are required to sing along. It's also absolutely forbid to show symbols encouraging hatred. Real Madrid applied this measure in the rest of the stadium, but it all started in our sector. We're obviously talking mainly about fascist symbols. We also can't give our ticket to any members of our family and we can't miss five game for unjustified reasons during a campaign.

Did the Ultras Sur have similar requirements?

We all sign a contract with our ID, meaning that the club is aware of everybody participating in the Grada. The Ultras Sur did not have any agreement whatsoever, and they did not support the squad at all times. I remember one time, after the team had lost La Liga, when they entered the stadium in bathing suits, and spent most of the game playing around as if they were trying to say that the players were on vacation already. This contract with the club marks a big difference between the current and the past model.

Aside from Real Madrid, how many other clubs in Spain work together with the fans in this manner?

I would say none. Perhaps most fans cheer peacefully, but the crucial part of the Grada is the contract signed by Real Madrid and the members. Whoever breaks that contract gets expelled, which is what happened when some fans called Messi a "retard" this year.

"I think that Atlético de Madrid haven't done anything to end with the Frente because their relationship is actually a good one"

So why haven't other clubs like Atlético made something similar to control and expel their violent fans?

I think that Atlético de Madrid haven't done anything to end with the Frente Atlético because their relationship is actually a good one. The club and the members of the Frente work together, they have common projects. They won't do anything until the Spanish Federation forces them to. You need actual willingness to control these violent fans.

Are any of other club's directors afraid of the Ultras?

Maybe in the past, but not anymore. The thing is that these groups are often linked to the directors. The Presidents have the support of these groups and give the fans tickets and cheap trips in exchange for their support.

Former Deportivo President Augusto César Lendoiro was seen in the fan's funeral a couple of months ago...

Precisely. Why did Lendoiro go to that funeral? I think that we haven't worked through this Ultra problem at all well in Spain. We also have to give Barcelona credit because they were the first ones to kick their violent fans out of the stadium.

What needs to change in order for football to become a sport in which no violent fans may participate?

Clubs in Spain can do what Real Madrid is doing if there's a real will for change. Every club in Spain can find a number of young fans with no firm ideology willing to support and cheer for their club without violence, racism or politics. But as yet they don't dare to take that step. I wish they would do as Madrid has done.

And what about the institutions? Don't they need to do anything?

The Liga de Fútbol Profesional spoils everything it touches. My faith in these institutions is non-existent.

The fans at the Bernabéu and in some other stadiums around Spain chant "Tebas vete ya" - Tebas get out of here. What is he doing wrong?

There are a number of factors. There is match-scheduling, for example, but that does not affect FC Barcelona or Madrid overmuch. Other clubs are sometimes forced to play for several weeks on a Friday or Monday night. There is little rapport between the fans and the LFP because of things like that. And now measures are being taken that we consider to be unnecessary.

You're talking about the chants, are you not?

Yes, obviously. It's no easy thing. You can't mention rivals. I understand putting limits on the singing of "Puta Barça and Puta Catalunya" but is it necessary that Deportivo be fined because some of their fans sang "Vigo no, Vigo no". Does that encourage hatred? I think not. Furthermore, the regulations are imprecise. Real Madrid was also fined for singing "Puta Catalunya" when I can assure you that it did not happen under these new fans. I don't know how well the LFP are coping with this situation, but it doesn't seem to be very well, if I'm honest. Especially when we consider that Tebas is allowing the Frente Atlético Fans to enter the Vicente Calderón after the violence of this past winter. Some clubs have banned their Ultras, but the Frente, who are responsible of killing two men over the last decade, are still going to Atlético's stadium. If Atlético don't do anything, the LFP or the Spanish Federation need to.

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Some time ago, in just a two-week span, Real Madrid decided to kick the Ultras Sur out of the Bernabéu. What happened?

It's not hard to explain. Ultras Sur have been attending the Bernabéu behind the goal in the South stand since 2001. Real Madrid did not have any specific problems with them inside the stadium. In late 2013, there was a fight inside the bar where they used to gather between a violent section of Ultras Sur and others who were in charge.

"Ultras Sur threw bottles and projectiles at us during the first day La Grada entered the Bernabéu"

They used knives, baseball bats... These new men thought that the old leaders were making money out of the Ultras Sur. After this dispute, Ultras Sur came under the control of a more violent faction. In fact, three of them are in prison as we speak. Real Madrid did not want anything to do with them and decided to kick them out and close down their section of the Bernabéu. Primavera Blanca and La Clásica stepped up and offered to keep supporting the club from those seats until the end of that season.

I guess that these new members were under heavy pressure by the Ultras Sur?

Most of them refused to participate because of that, yes. It happened on the very first day La Grada Fans RMCF entered the Bernabéu. They threw bottles at us and other projectiles. After the club decided to go all in with this new Grada, it's true that some fans changed their minds and thought about joining the group. The Ultras Sur also started to get organized and launch some kind of campaigns to harass the members of the Grada on Social Media using sexism and publishing some private pictures of them as well.

Are you aware of this same thing happening with the club's directors too?

Of course, after they got expelled, Ultras Sur tried to "recover their stand". President Florentino Pérez had to endure his wife's grave stone being desecrated with graffiti by the Ultras Sur; we have graphic evidence of that. There is no need to comment on that incident as it's entirely beyond the pale. But they also tried to enter the stadium once again by creating an association that wasn't very successful. They refused to condemn racism and violence in their statute and included some former members of Ultras Sur.

"We found ourselves being insulted and harassed just because we were peacefully supporting our team"

I remember that they sent many of them to the Castilla games as well...

Yes, but they are no longer Real Madrid Castilla fans. They really liked it but they stopped going, how convenient!

The first months during which members of the new Grada and the Ultras Sur had to coexist were difficult. They sabotaged chants, broke banners and all of this happened inside the stadium. How did you live through all this?

We could all make a movie about last year's experience!  Luckily, it's a happy ending because the team won La Décima, but all of us who were in the Grada last year saw things that we could not believe. The first day, the Police had to form a corridor to protect us from bottles and such. There were kids around, they were going to support their team. Last year we coexisted with them, as you said, because they still had valid tickets which they had paid for. Those were tough moments and I sometimes thought about leaving the stand. I also have some friends who made that decision. We found ourselves being insulted and harassed just because we were peacefully supporting our team.

After the Police arrested these three Ultras Sur leaders, are they finished?

I don't know. My personal opinion is that they're always going to exist, even if they are a small group and not as violent as they were in the past. Ultras Sur will exist because they make a living off drug-dealing. As long as they keep doing that, they will stay alive as a group.

You are usually very judgmental about the press. Why is that?

Here is where I feel we need to put ourselves first. Inside the different groups and associations that are part of the Grada there is Primavera Blanca, which I'm a member of. Primavera Blanca works for the independence of Real Madrid as a club and launched a campaign directed at the media - "Hands off Real Madrid" - which was really successful. We believe that media criticizing the club out of proportion should not use the club's symbols and logos on their promotional material. But it's important to say that when the whole stand releases statements criticizing the press, it was all agreed between the members.

How many members inside the stand are part of Primavera Blanca?

380 out of 1560.

I'm asking because some say that Primavera Blanca is the one association in control of the new Grada Fans RMCF...

This is the first time I've heard that, to be honest. But I can say that it is true that Primavera Blanca is one of the main groups responsible of creating and thinking up this new concept of the Grada when we decided to release the campaign "Otro Bernabéu es possible". We believe that it's possible to have a stand full of young men and women supporting Madrid throughout the whole game without racism, violence or politics involved. This happened before the Ultras Sur battle, though, so we don't try to profit from their inner problems.

How does the cooperation between the club and the Grada work?

Real Madrid always has the last word. But if the club wants to do something that the Grada doesn't like, we will not do it. This is a symbiotic relationship.

tifo10

Ochaíta, a former leader of Ultras Sur and possibly the one with the biggest record for violence, is part of the Grada. That has been criticized, what do you have to say?

Yes, this drew attention because he's an historic leader of Ultra Sur; you only need to Google him to see what kind of person he was. I have to admit that I did not like the idea, I publicly said so at the time. I didn't know him, but I heard of him obviously. But he's not the same person he was 20 years ago. He's an important member of this Grada because he's the one who changed Ultras Sur into the pacific group they were before the fight at the bar. I have nothing to say against him. He did some things he's not proud of, paid for doing them, and now he's changed.

Even if we accept this, it would be reasonable to say that his sole presence on the Grada might be detrimental to the public perception of your group, right?

That could happen to those who are not properly informed. If you decide to remember him as the person he was years ago, then sure, but it's very important to let people know what he did recently to change Ultras Sur, as I said. You only need to ask around the members to see that nobody has had a problem with him over the last few years.

What will happen first: A) Violent fans will not be allowed in football B) The Bernabéu will stop whistling the team after a difficult loss.

It's easy to stop violence. The Bernabéu has always been a very demanding crowd and it will not be easy for us to change that tradition. It will never change, but violence can be eradicated if there's a will to do so.

Interview by Lucas Navarrete - Copy Editor: J.A. Marsano