If you have watched any of the recent home matches of Real Madrid, you have surely noticed the group of around 2000 supporters behind one of the goals, all dressed in white. They occupy the legendary southern stand of the renovated “Bernabéu” and must follow strict rules imposed by the club – one of which is to be between 14 and 45 years old.
They are the most vocal fans, responsible for creating the pleasant atmosphere that even surprised Jude Bellingham after his debut in Madrid a month ago. “The moment of my goal is the loudest I have ever heard at a match,” said the Englishman about his winning goal against Getafe in the 90+5th minute. However, things were not always as harmonious on the same southern stand in the past. Until recently, in 2013, the said part of the “Bernabéu” was occupied by a fierce far-right ultras group, but how did Real manage to rid itself of it and regain control? The website The Athletic tells the story.
“La Peña de las Banderas” is one of the first leading fan organizations of the White Ballet. However, its radical members decide to break away and form “Ultras Sur” in the 1980s. In Spanish, “sur” means south. They are known for their extreme right-wing ideology, influenced by hooligan movements in England and Italy. Soon, these same people displace the moderate Real Madrid fans and even gain official legitimacy from presidents Ramón Mendoza (1985-1995) and Lorenzo Sanz (1995-2000), posing for photos with them. By 2000, the ultras even had their own section at the “Bernabéu,” where they could display their banners with racist symbols and violent messages.
But things begin to gradually change due to an incident in 1998, when the hooligans climbed the metal fence and smashed the gate in front of the southern stand just before the Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. The match was stopped for 75 minutes, and Real was punished to play in front of an empty stadium and fined 115 million pesetas (around 691 thousand euros at today’s exchange rate).
At that time, the rest of the fans at the “Bernabéu” and the club bosses started to look warily at the radicalism of the ultras. Despite this, they managed to retain their influence in the stadium and even gained more prominence during José Mourinho’s tenure as coach from 2010 to 2013. Praised for his sharp tongue and his war against Barça, the Portuguese coach logically became a favorite of “Ultras Sur,” and they even dedicated a banner to him, which read, “Your finger points the way.” This refers to the controversial moment when José poked Tito Vilanova (Pep Guardiola’s assistant) during a heated El Clásico in 2011.
When Mourinho led his farewell match against Osasuna in June 2013, it is no coincidence that he only greeted the fans from the southern part of the stadium, and on the same day, six members of “Ultras Sur” came down to the pitch to present him with a commemorative plaque. However, this would be one of the last actions of the far-right group at the “Bernabéu” because following an internal conflict that led to the withdrawal of their long-time leader José Luis Ochaíta, they were expelled from the stadium at the order of president Florentino Pérez (December 2013).
The response of “Ultras Sur” was a fierce campaign against Pérez, which included death threats to the boss and desecration of his wife’s grave. “I know who painted my wife’s grave, but they can’t scare me, and they will never enter the Real stadium again,” Florentino vowed in an interview in 2014.
At the same time, the Royal Club founded “Grada Joven de Animación” with the idea of creating a new youth southern stand that had nothing to do with the hooligans of the past but would generate the same atmosphere. The new appearance is associated with two fan groups – “La Clásica” and “Primavera Blanca,” with the former being the heirs of “La Peña de las Banderas.” Around them, a small group of “rehabilitated” members of “Ultras Sur” remain, but this time they are obliged to follow the rules set by the club to ensure that all fans coexist harmoniously.
On January 8, 2014, the expelled ones await the “new” fans in a live corridor to intimidate them, but the club firmly withstands the battle against “Ultras Sur,” and more and more fan groups from both the country and abroad join the transformed southern stand of the “Bernabéu.” Some of the expelled try to occupy other places in the stadium, but gradually become less noticeable. Others continue to endure punishments. The location for their meetings has not changed to this day – “Marceliano Santa María” street. Some of the old ones still gather there, but they remain outside the “Bernabéu” during matches. At the same time, the fans of the new “singing” stand must adhere to the club’s strict conditions. One of them is signing an agreement that ensures the sector is filled only with young people, all dressed in white without exception. And most importantly, they must support Real in a completely peaceful manner, without using songs that could harm the club’s interests.
Of course, not everyone likes the new order, especially the decision to give cheaper tickets to people from the southern stand, but winning titles in La Liga and the Champions League is the best way to silence critics. And as Bellingham recently discovered, the “Bernabéu” is still as noisy as it has always been.