“Grada Fans RMCF want to welcome all Madridistas that believe in animation without violence, politics, racism and intolerance, open to all ages with only one feeling: MADRIDISMO,” reads Grada Fans RMCF’s website.
The fondo sur is full of passion and Madridismo. It is the only section of the stadium that constantly showers ‘Los Blancos’ with support and does not whistle when the team is playing badly.
The Santiago Bernabeu’s south stand has not always been this supportive, open-minded and welcoming. In fact, when the ultras ruled the terrace it was quite the opposite.
Ultras are a type of football fan that are known for their fanatical support. The term originated in Italy and generally refers to fan groups that are very political. Many European giants have well-known and active ultras groups that are responsible for the intimidating atmosphere at home matches. Why is it then, that the biggest club of all, does not have ultras at the Bernabeu?
The truth is, Real Madrid not only had an infamous ultras group, but the club had formal ties with them. That group was named ‘Ultras Sur’ and was started in the 1980s. Their leader was Jose Luis Ochaita.
Ochaita has a long history of violence and match bans. He was arrested in 1998 in Germany for waving Nazi flags and was also banned from matches for three years for attacking a referee after a Real Madrid vs. F.C. Barcelona basketball game. Ultras are usually very political and Ochaita attracted many right-wing Real Madrid fans to join Ultras Sur.
Ultras Sur looked to former Spanish leader Francisco Franco for inspiration. Franco oppressed the Basque, Catalan, and Galician populations, as well as women and political opposition. The Ultras Sur’s alt-right leanings attracted a large youth contingent who were racists, neo-Nazis, and skinheads.
According to El Pais’s Mabel Galaz, a man under the pseudonym ‘Tiger88’ went undercover as a skinhead and neo-Nazi. He published “Diario de un skin” under the false name Antonio Salas, in which he recounted going through the initiation into Ultras Sur to gain a better understanding of the supporters’ group.
He explained that the real engine of the skinhead movement and many of the Ultras Surs was hate: “hate of blacks, Jews or Moors. The hate of prostitutes, homosexuals and transvestites. The hate of the bourgeois, capitalists and progressives. The hate of almost everyone but themselves.”
This hate was not something they just believed in — it was something they acted on. At matches, they led racist chants against opposing players, with one of their favorites being “six million Jews to the gas chamber.”
After home matches, they organized hunts of blacks, prostitutes, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and supporters of other clubs. According to Ashifa Kassam, members of Ultras Sur would also sell fascist memorabilia at school markets to children.
Ultras Sur lives up to all the negative stereotypes of ultras. But instead of condemning the actions of the supporters, Real Madrid surprisingly had official contact with them and refused to speak out against their actions due to their relationship with the club.
Ultras Sur had formal ties with the club. They had offices inside the Bernabeu where they stored pamphlets, drums, megaphones and flags and banners displaying Franco’s shield and neo-Nazi symbols.
The ultras not only had an official relationship with the club, but also had support from some Real Madrid players and managers. In 2005, Ultras Sur were waving racist banners during Real Madrid’s 5-0 beating of Racing Santander. After the match, photos were published of Roberto Carlos trotting over to the south stand to give Ochaita his shirt.
Roberto Carlos later apologized saying, “I made a mistake of presenting the shirt. At the moment I wasn’t aware of the controversial events that occurred during the game.”
This was not the only controversial moment involving Real Madrid and the infamous ultras. After a 7-1 victory against Osasuna, Jose Mourinho defended Ultras Sur saying if it were not for them, “you would think the stadium was empty.”
Club President Florentino Pérez recognized that Real Madrid should not have supported such an awful group and he banned Ultras Sur from attending matches in 2014. This was very controversial among the Real Madrid faithful because the atmosphere at matches suffered. Ultras Sur declared war on Pérez calling for his resignation and vandalizing his home and the grave of his wife.
Pérez knew that the actions of Ultras Sur were unacceptable and damaged Real Madrid’s global brand. He needed to find a way to prevent this from happening again. Instead of cutting ties with all fan groups, he set out to better the relationship and maintain control over the groups.
In 2014, the club released an official statement: “Real Madrid C.F. would like to announce the complete reorganization of the ‘Grada Animacion’ in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium’s South Stand and invite members to send a request if they wish to be in this new area of the stand.”
Pérez wanted to create a new young group of supporters that would promote acceptance and tolerance. To enforce this, he required every peña and every member who answered the club’s request to sign an agreement with the club.
The agreement required fans to support the team relentlessly, stand for all 90 minutes, and collaborate with the administration of the Grada, among other things. Most importantly, Pérez required them to renounce violence and the expression of racist, homophobic, or intolerant ideas and messages, making the Grada the exact opposite of Ultras Sur.
The new Grada was formed by members of dozens of peñas spread through four sections behind the south goal. The four sections are organized by the four peñas with the most experience: Primavera Blanca, Peña Veteranos, Peña La Clásica and North Fans who bring love and support to the team without hate.
Pérez was able to use the club’s precedent of having an official relationship with supporters’ groups to end their relationship with Ultras Sur and reestablish a welcoming and supportive environment within the Santiago Bernabeu. Pérez ridding the Bernabeu of the neo-Nazis is just another example of his positive influence on Real Madrid.