What a baffling decision Bristol City made at the West Ham match this Sunday. A flag which has graced Ashton Gate for the past eight years was removed from view of the Match of the Day cameras. The reason? It included the word “ultras” which has suddenly become unacceptable at Ashton Gate due to its supposedly negative connotation.
As a match-going football fan for over 30 years, the expression “ultra” has crept into my consciousness rather slowly. If I was playing word association with my kids, “Paulo Di Canio” would come long after I said “fanaticism,” “The East End” or “lifeblood”. My experience of meeting the individuals who might best be described as City’s ultras has been very positive and there’s a clear distinction in my mind between their idea of supporting my Club and those of hooligans. The intriguing part is that many of the long-standing decision makers at Bristol City surely know this too.
I can therefore only assume that the removal was for the benefit of potential future supporters, some of whom may not know who our ultras are and reach a false conclusion. An opportunity to show-piece the Ashton Gate experience to millions of viewers was met with 12,000 Bristol Sport scarves and an instruction video on how to wave them above our heads, serious consideration of the oppositions crowd-manipulation bubble blowing machine and the tippexing out of any potential distractions from an otherwise super-smashing atmosphere.
I’m fully behind the Club’s efforts to grow its supporter base but will organised scarf waving and hiding our most vocal fans really attract new supporters? My disposable income for my family goes on eating out, the cinema, theatre, concerts and comedians. I choose Bristol City ahead of all those because of the friends I meet, the unpredictability of the event, feeling a part of the City community and having the freedom to express my emotions with other people like me. I am grateful that the ultras bring colour, noise and rhythm and that they give themselves passionately in support of my team.
They play an essential part in what makes going to see Bristol City worthwhile. Bristol City without the ultras would be like going to the cinema and watching the movie on a small screen, or going for a meal out and washing your own dishes. Put simply, if the problem is how to get more fans turning up, the answer includes celebrating and nurturing the ultras, not ostracising them.
But we’re all different and that’s just my view. At the Supporters Club & Trust we’re surveying City fans to get your views on how to improve the atmosphere at Ashton Gate. Maybe you agree with the Club’s stance or maybe you don’t, either way please add your voice by completing the survey by midnight on Thursday 29th January. Whatever way you feel, we want to help the Club get this right and the more they know about your views the better informed future decisions will be.