Meet the Villa Park ultras trying to make football fun and fend off fascism
‘If you look at the old pictures of the Holte with flags, banners, two-sticks and fans screaming their lungs out, that’s what we want for the club.’
Brigada 1874 are a group of around 30 ultras who are growing increasingly prominent in the lower Holte End at Villa Park. Initially misunderstood by fellow Aston Villa fans and the club itself, Brigada are gradually winning over those who viewed them with suspicion.
Formed almost half a decade ago the group of various ages are responsible for creating a vibrant, colourful corner of Villa Park. There is still an air of mystery surrounding Brigada and that is underlined by their preference to conduct this interview using pseudonyms.
But Brigada 1874 were keen to talk to the Birmingham Mail to clear up any misconceptions about their motives and outline their beliefs.
How long has the group been going?
(Eric) The group has been going for a little over four years now, our first game was the 2-1 win over Burnley in the League Cup in 2010.
Whereabouts at Villa Park are you located?
(Eric) We’re currently situated in L8 of the Lower Holte though we have moved over to L7 for cup games to give us more space for others to come and join us and ideally we’d like to be in that area next year so we more able to influence the atmosphere.
How many fans are in it?
(Eric) There are approximately 30 ultras involved in the group, though there is a wider group of fans who stand in the L8 section with us and during the cup games we’ve had up to 100 people in the section. Ages range from people in their late teens to those in their 40’s, age isn’t really an issue so long as you agree with the principles behind the group and are prepared to put the effort in.
(Karl) Our primary intention when starting out was to reinvigorate the atmosphere at Villa Park.
Since the introduction of all-seater stadiums and the pricing out of traditional working class fans, it, as well as most grounds around the country had become a destination for a certain type of middle class football fan often known as the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’.
Just as importantly for us when we were starting out as a group, the EDL were trying to recruit from football grounds, we felt we needed a visual presence of people that would not tolerate the politics of division on or off the terraces. We wanted to ensure there was no platform at Aston Villa for the EDL to grow.
We also wanted to show the young lads who may have been taken in by that kind of divisive ideology that they could come to the Villa, have a great time with a bunch of solid friends and not have to join in with any form of racism to find the feeling of group belonging.
How have you been received by fellow supporters?
(Karl) At the start some fans were dubious, particularly about the ‘ultras’ tag. Many fans associate ultras with right wing extremism and it was seen by many as being something foreign to the English game.
We basically had to stay tight and carried on regardless, did what we did and have convinced the vast majority of fans that we are a positive presence at Villa Park and really can help to make a difference with the atmosphere, by increasing noise levels and by the colourful displays we put on in support of the team.
There will always be a few naysayers, but these tend to be the kind of fans who would probably prefer to watch the match on T.V. or who have an issue with our anti Racist stance.
Tell us about some of the banners…
(Paul) Each of our banners have as much passion and effort put into it as the last, with each of these being hand drawn and painted by members of the group. The problems involved in this of course can be various, from finding venues big enough to paint in to sometimes painting in a very short period of time.
One of many banners that got a lot of attention not only at the game but on social media was a banner we had versus Sunderland. The banner stated “Your granddad didn’t play for fascists, he shot them.” which is a play on the King Blues song – Shooting fascists. This was aimed at the then Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio who was shamelessly a fascist being in the headlines for such things as Nazi saluting in front of Lazio fans and attending the funeral of Paolo Signorelli the fascist linked to the bombing of the Bologna train station.
Another banner that attracted attention was a banner that we displayed v Man City which stated ”Sky Stole The Soul” which was against the influence of sky in football and the state of modern football in general. We’ve had banners in support of our captain Ron Vlaar, one championing legendary players as heroes, a particularly poignant surfer picturing Johnny Dixon kissing the FA Cup and most recently we used a display to comment on the media’s sensationalist portrayal of Villa fans following the pitch invasion against Baggies in the cup.
(Karl) In the beginning there was some opposition from the club, especially in regard to over zealous stewarding. We felt the club was nervous as to our intentions, but over the years they have seen the group as less of a threat and more of a benefit. We are sure there will be the odd disagreement with the club with regard to certain things. It’s inevitable that an ultras group and the club itself will sometimes have different priorities.
How important is fan culture in football?
(Karl)It’s the soul of it, the only thing that really matters in football. The vast majority of us dont just go to football to see 11 men kicking a piece of leather around the pitch.
Are there any supporters groups at other clubs that you admire?
(Paul) There are many supporters groups across the world, but we would like to concentrate on the ultras groups.
In England the noticeable force are the Holmesdale Fanatics (Crystal Palace) who have showed what can be done for a group on these shores. They have done various full stand displays and have influenced the wider support. This is the same further up north with the Green Brigade (Celtic) and Well Bois (Motherwell). There are also groups at the likes of Rangers, Middlesborough, Lincoln, Oxford and Aldershot.
Further afield I’ve got a lot of respect for Bukaneros at Rayo Vallecano in Spain. This group have a level of militancy and organisation that has helped create some really ground breaking displays and they’re a real inspiration.
What is your view on the safe-standing campaign?
(Karl) It’s something that we fully support. We feel that the fans unfairly took the blame for the incidents at Hillsborough and the political atmosphere at the time gave the government and certain sections of the media the opportunity to demonise sections of the working class when they should have looked closer to home for those responsible.
The subsequent Taylor Report was the beginning of the end for traditional atmosphere at grounds around the country. There is an overwhelming groundswell of support for the campaign, and it would be good to see it introduced into grounds in the near future.
What is your view on the pricing/commercialisation of modern football?
(Paul) Football, in my eyes, has been and always will be a working class game. The current pricing has prevented many loyal fans in making the games which has also helped lead to the sterilisation of grounds. The commercialisation of football has also helped in putting an even further gulf between the fans and the teams they would die for.
The huge money paid by TV to Premier League clubs, allowed clubs to significantly lower ticket prices, instead it’s gone to paying inflated wages and filling the pockets of middle men. This has lead to a situation where instead of keeping to Saturday 3pm kick-offs we see matches being played at anti-social hours as dictated by the TV giants.
In an ideal world, what would you like Villa Park to be like in terms of atmosphere?
(Eric) It’s been said by many fans and people around the club that they want to see Villa Park return to the cauldron it once was and this has always been our aim as an ultra group. This will only come with the growth of grass roots, fans initiatives and the club allowing these things to happen.
If you look at the old pictures of the Holte with flags, banners, two-sticks and fans screaming their lungs out, that’s what we want for the club and what we want to see happen for future generations.