The world’s best ignored football cultures
Stateside football was making worldwide headlines this week thanks to the first ever New York derby, with New York Red Bulls going up against New York City FC. “Only in America” is a commonly heard expression, and it would come out again here. Because indeed, only in America could a Red Bull owned club come up against an opposition with even less football culture than themselves!
An embarrassed NYC FC season ticket holder who wishes to remain anonymous tweeted me the following image, leading to Manchester City’s marketing project which pretends to be an independent football club to be mocked all over the world. Totally crud, dude…
While not all American supporters are bad (in fact, the Portland Timbers are pretty damn good), clearly North America is still waiting for someone to join Mexico as a football culture stronghold. Rather than yet another “LOL AMERICANS DON’T UNDERSTAND FOOTBALL” article, I decided to put together a list of countries from around the world with an extremely underrated football culture. Forget those endless quotes from pundits about how ‘Soccer’ is taking off in America, these are the countries that really get it.
In the interests of fairness, I have included one per continent. Remember, I’m not necessarily saying these are the best, just the most overlooked.
Oceania – Australia
Just like the United States, football being popular in Australia is a fairly new phenomenon, with other sports such as Aussie rules, cricket and rugby league being dominant for a long time. Where Australia is different to the US is how much more natural the culture feels. When Sydney FC meet Western Sydney Wanderers or Melbourne Victory play Melbourne City (Heart), you can tell the hatred is genuine, rather than the aforementioned manufactured rivalry in New York where you can tell nobody really cares.
Western Sydney Wanderers in particular seem to have a fanbase willing to come up with new and original chants, rather than browsing YouTube and changing the words where appropriate as is so popular these days. Here’s my favourite, set to the tune of Supertramp’s ‘Logical Song’.
The North Terrace of Melbourne Victory has also put on some good displays, in particular this one which mocked Melbourne City for their Manchester City enforced rebrand, with banners reading “You can change your name, you can change your colours, but this city will always be ours!”
There is a very long road to travel for Australia to be considered alongside powerhouses such as Germany, Poland and Serbia, but they’re doing their own thing rather than being a cheap imitation. It is this originality and authentic passion which will ensure football in Australia can genuinely challenge the more established sports in the country, along with the high population of British, Greek and Balkan residents, all of them able to inspire the fan culture at various clubs with their experiences from back home.
Europe – Austria
Austrian football culture is greatly overlooked due to the fact that the strongest team in the country is the vile marketing entity which is Red Bull Salzburg. However once you step away from the fizzy drink billboard disguised as a football club, there is much to admire in this small nation of 8.5 million people.
There is of course Austria Salzburg, a club that I have unashamedly fallen in love with since learning of their story in 2012, and especially since witnessing their spinetingling support during their 5 – 2 playoff final loss to FAC Wien last year. Both Rapid Wien and Austria Wien also boast impressive groups of supporters, English fans may remember a legendary atmosphere from Rapid at Villa Park in a 3 – 2 Europa League victory. The derby matches between these two are usually the highlight of the season. Below you can see the Ultras of Rapid celebrating a victory in 2013:
As a bonus, here you see Sturm Graz displaying an Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired tifo
Asia – Indonesia
I must admit, the only reason I began following Indonesian football culture is because of this website. I noticed that my articles were extremely popular in this country, in 6th position for highest amount of visitors behind the UK, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and Italy. While Indonesia as a country is crazy about football, it seems that many supporters have fallen into the trap of supporting Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona.
However, despite the casual supporters offering their love to a product thousands of miles away, there are many thousands of supporters within Indonesia who are deeply passionate about their local sides. Persija Jakarta vs. Persib Bandung is one of the most heated matches in Asia, with crazy scenes every time the two big cities collide. I couldn’t find a suitable video to include, but a number of images from a recent meeting are below:
It is not just these clubs who put on excellent displays of support for their local team, below you see some of the scenes at the Blitar Derby:
As well as regularly using pyro, games in this country will often see huge flags, tifo displays and marches to the stadium, while as many as 6,000 away fans visit matches on the other side of the country. If more people could be convinced to support a local team rather than one on a television screen, Indonesian football culture could truly be a global force to be reckoned with.
For more on Indonesian Ultras and the football culture in the country, I can recommend visiting the excellent Ultras in Indonesia website.
Africa – Morocco
Football in Africa is unique to any other continent, with a unique supporter culture to go with it. This isn’t always good, most people who watched the 2010 World Cup will remember wanting to brutally murder the inventor of the vuvuzela with his own creation. However, there is plenty to love about football culture in Africa, with Egypt boasting a particularly impressive tradition until the trouble and tragedy of recent years saw many fans killed in police clashes saw games being played behind closed doors.
A country with a less well known but equally impressive football culture is Morocco, home of one of the most incredible matches on the planet – the Casablanca Derby. Raja and Wydad Casablanca battle for control of the biggest city in Morocco, with both clubs well known for winning trophies and, more significantly here, truly amazing tifo displays. It’s a big call, but I would argue that Moroccan supporters produce the most interesting and innovative tifos just about anywhere.
Here is my personal favourite I’ve seen from Raja, which was displayed at a time the team had produced a number of passionless and unacceptable performances:
Meanwhile from the red half of the city, here is a really interesting Wydad tifo with a ‘graffiti’ theme:
It is passion and creativity such as this which makes Morocco perhaps the most underrated fan culture on this entire list, and the Casablanca Derby is at number two on my list of games I have not yet seen live, behind only River Plate vs. Boca Juniors. Speaking of South America…
South America – Uruguay
Think of a truly great South American club and you probably think of San Lorenzo, River Plate, Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Santos, São Paulo or one of many others from Brazil or Argentina. What might not come to mind is Uruguay…but it should.
The tiny country that came 4th at the World Cup in 2010 despite having a population the same size as Wales shouldn’t just be famous for Luis Suarez, boasting one of the oldest and most intense rivalries in world football. Nacional and Penarol met for the first time in 1900, a timeline of hatred even longer than most of the UK derbies. Their level of domination is similar to Rangers and Celtic in Scotland, with Penarol champions 49 times and Nacional 44. The team with the third most titles has won…four.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that these clubs lead the way in the Uruguayan fan scene, with this fixture best described as complete chaos. Below you can see Penarol in action at a cup meeting between the sides:
Not to be outdone in the ‘That looks ******* mental’ stakes, here’s some images of the Nacional end:
While this is the game and these are the teams that grab the headlines, there are also many other clubs with extremely passionate support in the country, including Rampla Juniors (shown below):
A nice corteo from the penguin ultras away at Seal FC
Two capos lead the chanting
(Well, I did say every continent)
So these are my choices for the most under-rated football cultures around the world. Let me know what you think in the comments section, and any other nations that deserve to be on the list. Remember, as this article focuses on football cultures that not everyone knows about, you don’t need to stand up for Poland, Serbia, Germany, Argentina and so on – we all know you’re great!