Just a game? This intriguing visual title looks deep into the underbelly of football (soccer) fandom, featuring a vast photographic archive of fans' graffiti and street art captured by a pioneering ‘graffitologist’. At the intersection of the street and sport we find themes of the day: how racial, ethnic, and class tensions play out in visual culture.
On the fringe of sports culture are the Ultras, the football fans whose pyrotechnics, chants, wildly creative stunts, and hooliganism are infamous. Using selections from his archive containing hundreds of photographs of Ultras' street art and graffiti, including everything from elaborate murals to stickers to “scratchitto” incisions and spray-paint duels, award-winning author Mitja Velikonja introduces readers to the visual iconography of a fascinating underworld.
The Ultra subculture is built by “no-bodys,” the anonymous (primarily) men whose attachments to their teams, specifically in Europe and post-socialist states, sometimes cross the lines into nationalist sentiments and militaristic “Blood and Soil” extremism. After examining general themes and trends in street art and tifo club graffiti, Velikonja embarks on a case study of fans from his native Slovenia and touches on the roles of neighboring football fans in the Balkan Wars. He continues with an analysis of political and socially progressive graffiti, local trends and circumstances, as well as its role in the United States. As he peels back layers of misinformation and misrepresentation, he cues our understanding of factional mindsets within histories of political instability, arguing for dissensus being a critical element to democracies. In the end, we understand that while always under siege, the ultra-fans require nothing less than fidelity and devotion, but precisely to what can be determined — it's anyone's game to call.