If you’ve watched Real Madrid’s home games recently, you’ll have noticed fans wearing all white at one end of the Bernabeu. They are known as the Grada fans (‘Grada’ means standing in Spanish) and occupy the south side of the stadium.
Around 2,000 fans are based there and all have to follow strict rules set by the club – for example they must be between 14 and 45. A group of fans who are so loud that they stir up the rest of the stadium – so much so that even new signing Judd Bellingham was surprised on his home debut last month.
“The moment the goal was scored was the loudest I’ve ever heard on a football pitch,” Bellingham said after scoring in the 95th minute of the game against Getafe.
It was a moment to remember for Madrid fans – and especially the south end of the Bernabeu – but things weren’t always going well on this side of the ground. Until recently, Until 2013, when Jose Mourinho was in charge, it was dominated by a vocal right-wing group.
So how did Real get back to their position in the south? And who is behind the gang now? The athleticism explains.
In the year In the early years of Madrid’s Nuevo Chamartín Stadium, which was renamed the Santiago Bernabeu in 1955, there was no artificial lighting and all matches were played in daylight.
Many areas of the pitch were out of the sun and Madrid preferred to attack in the second half at the Shed South Stadium, where many fans were packed in and tickets were cheap.
There were still no seats, all the spectators were standing, despite the arrival of night games and artificial light, the southern end became the most disgusting part of the Barnabas.
La Peña de las Banderas (The Supporters’ Group of the Flag) was one of the first groups to organize supporters in that part of the stadium (now known as La Clasica or The Clasica One). But it didn’t take long for radical members of that group to break away in the 1980s into the Ultras Sur – ‘Sur’ meaning the south of Spain. They had an extreme right-wing ideology fueled by hooligan movements in England and Italy.
They soon displaced moderate supporters and were legitimized by Madrid presidents such as Ramon Mendoza (who served in that role from 1985-1995) and Lorenzo Sanz (1995-2000). In the year Until the 2000s, ultras had their own space at the Bernabeu and could carry their banners with racist and violent symbols and messages.
Like Atlético Madrid’s Frente Atlético or Barcelona’s Boxos Nois – both of which position themselves on the far right – Ultra Sur were a legacy of dictator Francisco Franco’s Spain in an increasingly democratic country.
Things began to change in the 1998 Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund when they came from behind to score in the south end. The game was suspended for 75 minutes and the club was fined 115 million pesetas, €691,000 in today’s currency (726,000; £599,000) for one game.
It was then that the rest of the Bernabeu and the rest of the club began to view the ultrasound radicalism with more suspicion. But they managed to retain their place in the stadium and found new prominence during Mourinho’s tenure between 2010 and 2013.
Mourinho became a favorite of the ultras when he publicly defended his team against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona. In the year During a highly-contested Supercopa de España Clasico in 2011, the Portuguese coach gave then-Barca assistant Tito Vilanova a banner reading “Your finger points the way” after he poked him in the eye.
The admiration seems to have been returned. After Mourinho’s tenure flourished in June 2013 when he took charge of their last Real game against Osasuna, he only applauded the south end. That day, six Ultras Sur members came to the field to give him a plaque.
It proves to be one of the last images of the right-wing team at the Bernabeu. After long-time leader Jose Luis Ochaita stood down and was kicked out of the stadium by President Florentino Perez in December 2013, they became embroiled in internal strife.
It was then that Ultras Sur launched a campaign against Perez. This includes death threats against Madrid’s long-time president and the alleged desecration of his wife’s grave.
“I know who painted my husband’s grave with their names and names, but they cannot threaten me. They will not enter here,” Perez said on radio station Cadena SER in 2014.
This was a big change for the club. In the year In 2013 Madrid, the Grada Joven de Animação (Young Supporting Stand) is now known as the Grada Supporters RMCF. The idea was to create a young southern stance unconnected to their far-right predecessors who created a similar atmosphere.
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The new-look stand was initially made up of two fan groups, La Clasica and Primavera Blanca (White Spring), along with the designated Ultras sur, where all fans were forced to abide by the club’s rules. In agreement.
In the year When the new area was inaugurated on January 8, 2014, the ultras created a corridor through which the new members were forced to wait. The aim was to scare them, and many were scared.
But the club stood firm with Ultras Sur, convincing supporters to join the ranks. These days it is estimated that between 30-50 teams are represented in the Greda fan section from Spain and beyond.
Some ultras tried to occupy other seats in the stadium, but they were not as prominent as before, while others were still denied. They always meet before games in the nearby Via Marceliano Santa Maria, and some still do, outside the stadium, during matches.
The club moved the singing section to the lower ground level for safety and other reasons. Madrid gave those supporters strict conditions: all members had to sign an agreement that the area would always be filled with young people, all without exception dressed in white and all had to enjoy themselves peacefully – any chanting that could harm the interests of the club.
The decision didn’t please everyone, especially the move to offer cheaper tickets to people in the south. Owning a Real Madrid season ticket is difficult as fans must first become a member and tickets are often passed down through the generations.
Winning the La Liga and Champions League titles seems to have silenced the critics. And as Bellingham quickly discovered, the South Stand was just as loud as ever.
(Top photo: Victor Carretero/Real Madrid via Getty Images)