NORTH AFRICAN ULTRAS: The True Gladiators Of African Football

As a student of history, the Arabian conquest of North Africa is one that has been told in varying forms. However, a common theme is that it took more than one invasion for this conquest to be established.

The conquest of Egypt in 647, and the subsequent attempts to protect it led to the conquest of Tripolitania (modern-day Libya), and then Fes (modern-day Morocco), and then Carthage (modern-day Tunisia), till the present day North Africa, hence, the Islamic influence, and wealth and standard of living. That is obviously why they see themselves as brothers, No matter the nationality.

The belief in some parts is that; North Africa is too good to be part of Africa. That belief reinforces a sense of superiority that reflects in everyday life, including football. The style is considered similar to the Europeans mainly due to their proximity to the Iberian Peninsula.

Consider Egypt, for instance, who won three straight African Cup of Nations titles between 2006 and 2010, playing a beautiful style of football that had been rarely seen in these parts. It was a deviation from the strength and bully-ish style of Cameroon who won in 2000 and 2002.

But that wasn’t new, Tunisia had won in 2004 playing a similar style, and six years earlier, in 1998, Egypt had somewhat won the title besting South Africa in the final. In fact, this is the longest stretch the African Cup of Nations has gone without a North African winner. 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

At club level, the story is pretty much the same. Egypt have won 35 titles at Club level, followed by Tunisia on 23 and Morocco on 19, Algeria round off the top 5 with 11, DR Congo sandwiched in between them on 14. One need look no further than the last CAF Super Cup held in Qatar between Raja Casablanca and Esperance Tunis (two North African teams) who sold out in Qatar.

This season in the CAF Champions League, Al Ahly (EGY), CS Constantine (ALG), Wydad Casablanca (MAR) and Esperance (TUN) all represent in the Quarter Final. Matches between them always a war as seen during the “Constantine v Esperance” encounter.

This “Maghreb wars”, as they are fondly called, are spiced up by the presence of Ultras i.e. organized fan groups (Another European tradition eh?). A phenomenon that is uncommon in these parts. These organized fan groups fiercely loyal to their teams (mostly in their thousands) take up a portion of the stadium and are not to be messed with. They use social media to rehearse their activities and often take a stand against the opposition, and sometimes the state and against the society at large. It is why they refer to themselves as “gladiators”.

Often times, these Ultras have been accused of bullying opposition fans on the terraces instilling fear with their demonstrations. It is no surprise there is a history of violence. The cauldron-like atmosphere created by these ultras are enough to send cold shivers down the spine of grown men. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

From the lush and trim pitches of Tetouan to the fiery surfaces of Tunis, the battlegrounds of Algiers and the massive and monumental structures in Cairo, Football is more than a game here. They play free.

Legends past; Trias Dhiab, Lakdhar Belloumi, Badou Ezzaki, Rabah Madjer, Mustapha Hadji, Hossam Hassan, Ahmed Hassan, Ziad Jaziri, Francileudo dos Santos, Mohammed Abou Trika amongst a host of others to heroes’ present; Essam El Hadary, Riyadh Mahrez, Mohammed Salah, Yacine Brahimi, Youssef Msakni, Oussama Darragi, Mehdi Benatia amongst others. This is North Africa, where football never sleeps, the light never goes out and the sound never stops.

Shout out Dean Ammi (@DZfootball_en). Algerian journalist and Football content creator. Need an Algerian football plug? Dean is your guy. Keep up the good work big man.

Muyiwa Adagunodo