Rival football 'ultras' united in Egyptian protests

31/03/11

A highly organised network of football fans had a big part to play in the Egyptian revolution, Newsbeat has discovered.

Rival "ultras" groups say they came together to fight for their country.

They're known for fighting police and used their tactics to help people protesting in Egypt.

Newsbeat went to an African Champions League football game in Tunis to meet some of them with Cairo's Zamalek SC playing Tunis side Club Africain.

It was a significant game for the region as it was the first time sides from these two countries had met since the revolution began.

Different atmosphere

The ultras supporting Club Africain packed out one end of the stadium behind the goal.

The sound was deafening, with the group making sure they chanted from the minute they got to the stadium until they left.

But the atmosphere, we were told, was a lot different to normal.

Club Africain fans
Image caption Club Africain fans travelling to a game against Zamalek in Tunis

Instead of a feeling of intimidation towards the opposing side, it was more like a celebration.

The two countries had just been through a huge period of change and both sides were proud at what they had accomplished.

The stands were full of flags, not just for the two sides, but representing all the countries involved in the uprising.

We could see flags for Libya, Algeria and Syria as well as an Egyptian flag in the Tunisian stand.

At the start of the match there was a minute's silence for all those who died in the revolution.

Rising tensions

The atmosphere may have been one of celebration, but this was still a north African football match.

Smoke filled the stands as flares were set off.

With police operating on a much more subdued level in Tunisia, there was a worry trouble could kick off inside the ground.

At one point a few fans managed to get on to the pitch and were dragged off by stewards.

As tensions began to rise, the footballers themselves were herded together away from the crowd.

As it got increasingly rowdy, there was a fear the referee would call off the game for safety reasons.

But then the Club Africain president stepped out.

He's a man who claims he was forced out by the old regime, but he's now back in charge, democratically elected.

His quick walk around the stadium was enough to calm things down.

When Newsbeat spoke to some of the ultras, they told us large numbers of them fought on the front line at the protests.

They said they passed on their knowledge to other demonstrators and protected people and their homes.

Abdullah, who's a member of the Zamalek White Knight Ultras, told Newsbeat they also helped to organise the protests.

He said: "We had many meetings to discuss the revolution before it started. We discussed that we must play an important part for Egypt, we must support Egypt."

The official line from the Ultras is that they didn't take part as a group but Newsbeat has been assured this isn't the case.

An ultra from a rival group, thought to have around 15,000 members, said they also played a role.

They worked alongside the White Knights, usually sworn enemies, to protest for their country.