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DFB Pokal German Cup
Hamburg
By Ralf Falbe
10 Aug 2015

FC St. Pauli vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach, DFB Pokal 2015,Hamburg, Germany. Fans of Gladbach before the match.

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Life in Green and White: An 'Ultra's'...
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Text and Photos by Karolis Pilypas Liutkevicius

Vilniaus Žalgiris scores a goal in a football match against Klaipėdos Atlantas, two of Lithuania’s top teams. The fan section of the stadium erupts in a ferocious show of support. Some fans stumble down the stadium platform to greet the players face to face, others light flares. Everything is engulfed by smoke, the air fills up with loud chants. However, not everyone knows what happens after the echoes of the seemingly primordial shouts of football fans bounce off the walls of the stadium for the last time, when the last whistle is blown.

This is about trying to look through the seemingly negative façade of the “ultra,” a word used to describe some of the most hardcore sports fans on the planet.

“You could call it my second family,” says Jonas Šečkus, 36.

Jonas is a father of two young kids, he’s happily married, enjoys his job as a geologist and as a geology lecturer at Kaunas and Klaipėda universities. He has been a hardcore football fan since 2010.

“Yes, I’m an ultra. What’s bad about being so into something? And of course, just like in any family there are people who are, to put it lightly, a bit weirder, but there’s also really good guys. What keeps everyone in line is that we have boundaries that should not be crossed”, explains Jonas.

Politics of the game

According to Jonas, being a dedicated football fan in Lithuania is a different experience than being one in countries that are more well-known for the sport. Žalgiris’s budget consists of a smaller amount than what the country’s most beloved sport – basketball - and it’s two biggest teams get. Since a football club is more expensive to maintain than a basketball team, the level at which this sport is played in Lithuania is lower than what people are used to in more football-oriented countries.

This contributes to the fact that there aren’t as many fans as is usual within football fan clubs elsewhere. The “Pietų IV Ultras,” are therefore considered a local phenomenon. The fan club which consists of around 100 people is strikingly dedicated and well known among the population, mostly for their ferocity that is often publically associated with fanaticism. Since the Žalgiris club was established in 1965, it has been heavily associated with national history, and this makes most of the fans very patriotic, in some cases even ethnocentric.

“I don’t think you can separate any sport from politics. But since football has the strength of being the biggest sport in the world, politics are easily visible in it,” Jonas explains. Žalgiris football club has played a major part in Lithuanian history as a means for everyday people to express the independence and freedom of their country.

“Of course if some sort of pro-Russian ‘vatnik’ would suddenly appear among us in the stadium and start preaching his ideology, it would end badly for him,” says Jonas while eating sandwiches made by his wife. He talks about violence in a very nonchalant way, but with some thoughtful reservations. Without saying exactly how badly it would end for someone with such a political disposition, he makes it clear that it certainly wouldn’t be nice.

A day to day ultra

In his home and at work Jonas makes an effort to live a normal life. A courier arrives with a new child’s bike, colored green – the prefered colours of his football club - that he looks forward to giving to his daughter as a gift. At his office, Jonas is extremely concentrated on preparing an upcoming lecture and making the slides as interesting for his students as he can.

“I love teaching. It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience that this occupation gives you,” Jonas admits.

“My students know that I’m an ultra, but I don’t parade that in front of them. I usually don’t wear my colors to lectures or my office.”

Contrary to what most people would think about “ultras,” football fandom fits into Jonas’s life without any repercussions, he says.

“It’s a way for people to vent,” he reflects. “After their stressful jobs, or with the intention to get something off their minds, people come here with the same intentions as those who go to shooting clubs, only we go to watch football and support our team. I think it’s meaningful. From the sidelines it may look violent, since we shout and light pyrotechnics, but we shout so they can hear us. We burn flares so they can see us. That’s what support is about.”

Jonas is clearly not a fan of the media and how it gives ultras a negative connotation by portraying their lifestyle as violent.

“Media wants bad news, because it is an easier sell. If a conflict between the police and fans erupts, they won’t even look into who’s the culprit,” he says. “Of course the fans are the bad guys, because police have the status of untouchable public guardians. That’s a normal view, but since there’s a lot that’s wrong with police in most countries, Lithuania included, everything gets complicated.”

Under scrutiny

The police, on the other hand, have a different opinion about Jonas’ fan club. Always hovering around the part of the stadium where the fans gather, they constantly observe them as they arrive.

“Once I arrived at the stadium, and a police officer, who I didn’t even know, greeted me by name. They monitor us very closely, maybe even take pictures of us,” a young fan from the fanclub said. “They’re annoying.”

This timidly hostile view of the police seems to be shared by many of the fans. Before the game they often glance at the officers in a belligerent way and murmur some remarks about them.

“There were times when I was involved with some violent stuff, but I won’t talk about it,” Jonas says while putting on his jersey before heading to the stadium.

It’s time for one of the most important matches in the Lithuanian football league. Klaipėdos Atlantas and Vilniaus Žalgiris are set to play at the home stadium of the latter team.

After passing the security checkpoint just outside the stadium, Jonas enters the area of the stadium reserved for the fan club. He seems to feel at home here. The constant smile on his face while he meets his friends quickly changes to an expression full of excitement by the time the match starts. The chanting begins, flares are lit and everything fades into a mist of excitement and smoke.

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Lithuania ultras 06
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

When Jonas is not working, he wakes up early to go to his office and polish up his presentations and material shown in lectures for his students.

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Lithuania ultras 07
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

The smoking area is where Jonas spends his only breaks at work.

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Lithuania ultras 08
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

"I don't see my colleague often" - Jonas describes why his office is always so empty.

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Lithuania ultras 09
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Jonas's wife Ramånä isn't a big football fan but has been to a couple of matches with her husband.

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Lithuania ultras 10
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

The family bought a bike for their youngest member Aistä—. She just turned 2.

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Lithuania ultras 11
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Jonas doesn't like watching football on TV, he'd rather play it or see it live.

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Lithuania ultras 13
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Memorabilia plays a big role while supporting the club at the stadium. It is often used in various choreographic moments created by the fans.

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Lithuania ultras 14
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Fanclub consists of people from very varied age groups. Most of Jonas's good friends are older fans.

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Lithuania ultras 18
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

A drum with DIY drum stick, chants and merchandise colored accordingly to match the clubs color scheme - these are the weapons of choice for a fan supporting the team in the stadium.

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Lithuania ultras 15
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

For the fans the game is a religion, and they openly show it.

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Lithuania ultras 16
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Many fans come from different enviroments, social classes and age groups, but at the stadium they consider themselves a big family.

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Lithuania ultras 17
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Jonas' first trip with the fan club was in 1998, after which came a break from football fandom. But since 2010 he'€™s been back in the stadium with his friends, trying not to miss any of the matches.

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Lithuania ultras 19
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Flares and pyrotechnics aren't allowed in the stadium by the law, but they always get smuggled in.

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Lithuania ultras 20
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Even though flares are prohibited by the law, they're always smuggled in. The police doesn't intervene in celebrations. Nowadays they just observe.

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Lithuania ultras 12
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

In the fan section of the stadium nobody sits. The seats here are for standing up.

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Lithuania ultras 21
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Fans gather at the stadium no matter the weather.

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Lithuania ultras 22
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Fans' intention to make their show of support as visually impressive as possible always ends up in smoke and fire.

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Lithuania ultras 23
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

Fans' intention to make their show of support as visually impressive as possible always ends up in smoke and fire.

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Lithuania ultras 24
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

The choreography of support is always organised by the most vocal and active fans on the spot.

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Lithuania ultras 25
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

The goal of the fanclub is to support their team as loudly and as visibly as possible.

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Lithuania ultras 26
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

In the stadium Jonas tries to be as vocal of a fan as he can.

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Lithuania ultras 27
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
02 Apr 2015

The club's players thank fans for their support after each game.

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Lithuania ultras 04
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
31 Mar 2015

"FIFA" is Jonas's favourite PlayStation 3 game.

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Lithuania ultras 05
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
31 Mar 2015

Managing his family life while being an ultra is not hard for Jonas.

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Lithuania ultras 01
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
29 Mar 2015

"They're annoying" - a young fan about the police.

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Lithuania ultras 02
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
29 Mar 2015

Covering your face in the fan section is popular. Fans know that the police always examine photos from the games to find out who brought in illegal pyrotechnics.

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Lithuania ultras 03
Vilnius, Lithuania
By Nanook
29 Mar 2015

Friendship between the fans and the club is apparent at the end of every game. Fans thank the players, and the players thank the fans.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Erdogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
04 Jun 2013

Soccer fans gathered outside Taksim Square on June 4, 2013, prepared to battle police after having built barricades. Fans of rival teams, Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galata Saray joined forces chanting slogans against the Prime Minister Ergogan and encouraging police to "be real men" and lay down their weapons.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
03 Jun 2013

Girls protesting outside Besiktas Football stadium gathered in Istanbul, an area that has been the site of the most severe clashes between police and protesters in recent days. Thousands gathered in advance of Monday's protests, many of them high school students and young people.

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Rival Football Hooligans Unite Agains...
Istanbul, Turkey
By Jodi Hilton
03 Jun 2013

Protesters gathered near Besiktas Football stadium to face off against police. Around 8 pm the police chased protesters off with excessive use of tear gas. Many protester ran away but small groups did street battle with police