Don't Call Them Hooligans: Meet Ultras, L.A.'s Major League Soccer Superfans
Courtesy of Tom Daniels/Black Army 1850 Black Army 1850 members raise their mega trapo.
There are two groups of soccer "types" everyone is familiar with. There's the "soccer mom," scooting across town in her minivan with her 2.5 children, and the "hooligan," a soccer fan whose sole purpose in life is to beat the living shit out of anyone who doesn't support his favorite team. There is also a third type, the "ultra," and Los Angeles now has its fair share of them.
Ultras, also known as supporter groups, are bands of diehard soccer fans who root for a particular team. They've existed in the U.S. since Major League Soccer had its first kickoff in 1996, taking inspiration from their European counterparts. They're the fans you'll find in the same section in every game chanting, singing, cheering and jeering along to the action on the field while drumming, tossing streamers and, on occasion, setting off a flare or two. A growing number of them in Europe have deep political affiliations, but so far that hasn't been the case in the U.S.
L.A. is currently the only city in the country hosting two MLS teams -- the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA, who share the Home Depot Center stadium in Carson and play each other this Saturday. The former was established in 1995 and is one of the league's first teams, while the latter was founded in 2004 and is the sister team to Mexico's Club Deportivo Guadalajara, aka Chivas de Guadalajara.
Each team recognizes three groups per team as official supporters: the Galaxians, Angel City Brigade and the L.A. Riot Squad on the Galaxy side; and Legion 1908, Union Ultras and Black Army 1850 for Chivas USA.
Ivan Fernandez Meet the Galaxians
The Galaxians have supported the Galaxy since day one. The group boasted a large number of members up until a few years ago, when the team moved from the Rose Bowl to the Home Depot Center in 2003. It also butted heads recently with former Galaxy player Alexi Lalas, who served as the Galaxy's general manager from 2006 to 2008.
"We had 100 percent support from owner Doug Hamilton," says Galaxian representative Carlisa Perdomo, "but, unfortunately, he passed away. Then Alexi Lalas came in and that changed it all for us because he had his own vision." Perdomo and other supporters have spent the past few years rebuilding the Galaxians to its former glory.
Ivan Fernandez Just one of Carlisa Perdomo's many soccer tattoos
The L.A. Riot Squad was born in 2001 after former goalkeeper Kevin Hartmann offered to buy a group of fans a keg if they put together a support group. Hartmann got his support group, the group got its keg and LARS has been at every home game with lots of booze ever since.
Courtesy of L.A. Riot Squad The Riot Squad can always be found in Section 138.
"The Riot Squad name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the old L.A. riots," explained Isaac Menchaca of LARS. "It's not to be taken too seriously, but I guess some people do." LARS considers itself an "anti-supporter" group that focuses on having a good time and pressuring visiting teams to get their heads out of the game.
Ivan Fernandez Veni Imbibi Vici in full effect
"Occasionally we do attract the wrong element of people," he added. "They think that, because we have the gas mask logo and Riot Squad in our name, that we're into the whole hooligan scene, but that's not really something that we're about. We're more into drinking, watching the game and being with friends."
The group's party vibe is also reflected in its motto, Veni, Imbibi, Vici, which means "I came, I drank, I conquered."
The Angel City Brigade (ACB) is the newest group for the Galaxy, founded in the off-season in 2007 by former members of LARS. "We all have a lot of respect for the Riot Squad," says Brian Lynch of the ACB, "but the cultures are relatively different. They're a little more 'Let's have a party and watch the game' and I think we're a little more of an active supporter style [group]."
Ivan Fernandez ACB for life!
The ACB wants to promote soccer throughout the city as well as promote a sense of civic pride through the sport via charity drives, fundraisers and other events. Ideally, the group would like to partner with a nonprofit in order to become involved with more charities and with the community. The members also hope to sponsor an amateur soccer team in the near future. "I think, in the next year or so, you're going to see more of those initiatives coming forward," Lynch says.
Up next: Chivas fans