Football Special Report #13: A Brief History of Irish Ultras, Hooligans, Tifo and Supporter Groups

The following was originally published in issue #71 of the Shelbourne fanzine Red Inc. (Feb 2021), put out by our friends at Reds Independent. With the League of Ireland season now up and running again, it seemed perfect timing to unleash the article upon the world with some extra pictures and an old school slide-show video at the end. Click here for all in the Football Special Report series.


Limerick Leader, 18 October 1975:
“As Limerick gave one of their best displays in years, the Sligo hooligans marauded through the terraces, the greyhound track and even the fringes of the pitch in a display of savagery that nauseated every fair-minded person among the crowd. Nobody can dispute that the Sligo “supporters” were responsible for the sickening scenes, but Limerick A.F.C. too, must bare some of the blame. After all, these incidents weren’t without precedent. Only on September 12th I wrote after the game against Cork Celtic had thrown up some similar incidents among a small portion of the attendance.”


Front cover of the Limrick Leader after the Battle of Market's Field involving Limerick and Sligo Rovers hooligans, 1975.

The above excerpt refers to the infamous “Battle of Market’s Field” and probably involved both of the League of Ireland’s earliest hooligan groups: Sligo Rovers’ “Red Alert”, with a large boot-boy element, and Limerick’s evocatively named “Black Dragons” with their skinheads. These mobs weren’t the only purveyors of football violence in the country, as reported on before in “Early Modern #2 – Hooligans and Ultras” (Red Inc. #63, May 2019) and trouble had already been witnessed in the late 60s and early 70s at grounds of the likes of St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers (including the stabbing of young Pats fan in Inchicore at a game between the two in 1972), but they are the earliest we have evidence for in the League of named, organised “supporter culture” groups.

Unorganised violence continued to be a factor too, as in 1977 when a pitch invasion from home fans at a St. Pat’s vs Home Farm game resulted in a player from each side being hospitalised. But Red Alert lasted as an entity from the early 70s to the late 80s, with their leader becoming a respected member of the support base by the time of his death in recent years. Besides the two groups mentioned, there was also Shamrock Rovers’ “Clockwork Boot Boys” from East Wall in the 1970s and “SRFC Mob”, who emerged in the early 80s. At both Rovers and their rivals Bohemians, skinheads and boot-boys were a regular sight among the mischief-makers, with trouble in Dalymount Park’s Shed End during the 1983 FAI Cup final between Bohs and Sligo broken up heavy-handedly by Gardaí.


Bohemians fans are beaten away from Sligo Rovers fans by Gardaí during half-time of the FAI Cup final in their own Dalymount Park, 24/04/1983.

Putting aside the ill-fated European visits of Linfield to Dundalk in 1979 and Rangers to Dalymount in 1984, the other most notable incident of the 70s and 80s occurred when a large Waterford away crowd turned up at St. Pat’s for a 1986 cup semi-final – allegedly including members of the “Freewheelers” biker gang intent on causing trouble. After rock-throwing from the away section caused the game to be halted, supporters clashed on the small terraces of Richmond Park resulting on some being dragged away unconscious. A couple of clueless Gardaí stood-by in the background.


Trouble between Waterford away fans (seen first) and St. Patrick's Athletic causing the game to be halted, 14/04/1986.

Thankfully, after all this mindless violence, a beacon of truth and justice was on the way in the form of Shelbourne’s mythical ARC – “Alternative Reds Club”. Founded in the mid-80s by a group of independent-minded fans, the ARC were more interested in spreading philosophy – often of the hard-left variety – than spreading violence. They did so via their fanzine “From Home To Home” (a reference to the clubs use of several grounds throughout its history), as well as displaying numerous Soviet flags at Shels matches along with their group initials – some of the earliest group banners in the league. While not the same in terms of tifo activity, the mentality and culture was similar in spirit to early Italian ultras groups and by the 1990s young Shelbourne fans, doubtlessly inspired by the ARC’s example of hardcore support and passionate fence climbing, were introducing pyro to Reds games including as far afield as a European tie away to Kilmarnock.


Shelbourne's "Alternative Reds Club" with their hammer and sickle group banner and Soviet flag at home to Bohemians in Tolka Park, 1992.
 
Shelbourne fans with pyro in Kilmarnock's Rugby Park during a Cup Winners' Cup first roung game, 14/08/1997.

Famously during the Poland vs Ireland Euro 92 qualifier in 1991, a possible-parody “Bray Seaside Firm” banner was on show implying a Bray Wanderers trouble element. But at Bohemians in 1992, the first real modern Irish hooligan firm was established in “Bohs Soccer Casuals” or BSC, with their Shamrock Rovers-equivalents – non-officially named but internally referring to themselves as “Larrys”, aka simply “Shamrock Rovers Casuals” – also an ever present element (probably since before then but with no “start date” like the BSC). Both casual culture and the burgeoning ultras scene were evident at a cup game in Dalymount between the two in 1994, as a large BSC tri-colour sat amidst the Bohs flags at one end, while at the other hung both “SRFC Ultras” and “Shamrock Rovers Commandos” banners. The latter of these were a group inspired by Roma’s “Commando Ultras Curva Sud” and apparently had banned by the club from home games in the RDS, but on this occasion were present with an astonishing (for the period) glut of pyro not far behind the banner. The SRFC Ultras flag meanwhile, seen long before the current group of the same name officially formed, was possibly owned by legendary Rover’s supporter Joe De Hoop.


The possibly tongue in cheek "Bray Seaside Firm" banner seen during Ireland's Euro 92 qualifier away to Poland, 16/10/1991.

"Bohs Soccer Casuals"' BSC tricolour flag during an FAI Cup first round 2nd replay at home to Shamrock Rovers, 1994.

Shamrock Rovers' fans' pyro, original "SRFC Ultras" banner, and obscured "Shamrock Rovers Commandos" banner during a game away to Bohemians, 1994.

In what was a seminal moment also in 1994, a future-influential young Shels fan threw pyro on the pitch from that same Connaught End in Dalymount during a Bohemians vs Shelbourne league match. In Shels’ home ground of Tolka Park nearby, Sligo fans lit up the Ballybough End with flares during the 1996 League Cup final. Pyro was also used Pats, Bohs, Shamrock Rovers and Cork City fans during the decade, by Shels in Europe as mentioned, and even by national teams supporters at the friendly victory over Germany in Hanover in May 94. While cup finals and the like of course already produced plenty of colour throughout the years, more modern tifo-esq flags were starting to be seen at the likes of Shamrock Rovers and Derry City. And with the crucial introduction of group banners, which is one of our main criteria, the decade of the 90s was basically the proto-ultra era for Irish supporter culture.


Pyro on the pitch thrown from the Shelbourne end at a league game away to Bohemians, 1994.


Sligo Rovers fans with pyro during the League Cup final away to Shelbourne, 1996.

Pyro from: Ireland fans away to Germany, 29/05/1994 (top left); Shamrock Rovers fans vs Bohemians, 02/10/1998 (top right); Cork City in an unknown 1999 game (bottom left); and St. Patrick's Athletic at home to Cork City, 16/04/1999.

The Shed at St. Pat’s Richmond Park had been building as an “atmosphere” enclosure for several years, attracting many local youths to be part of the action and pyrotechnics. In 2001 this manifested in the official creation of the “Shed End Invincibles”, or SEI – ultras named after the Irish revolutionary “Invincibles” assassins of the 1880s, as well as their home end, although the group would go on to occupy several other sections of ground. Concurrently at Shamrock Rovers, the modern incarnation of “SRFC Ultras” was also created, initially with another pyro display away to Bohs. Due to their then-nomadic club however, the group would have to wait several years before claiming a proper section of a home ground for themselves, with one of their biggest pyro displays of the early years – against Waterford in 05 – occurring while Rovers’ used their hated rivals’ Dalymount.


Original "Shed End Invincibles" banner, ultras of St. Patrick's Athletic, 2001.

New "SRFC Ultras" banner in the background as Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians emerge for a league game in Morton Stadium, 28/01/2001.

SRFC Ultras display for a relegation-bound Shamrock Rovers league games against Waterford while using Dalymount Park as a home ground, 11/11/2005.

A group of fans who jokingly called themselves the “Buckfast Army” at Longford Town also re-christened as “Section O” that year, in reference to the club’s newly rebuilt ground and the new sector they now found themselves standing in on their same old side of the pitch. Although not considered ultras, they have clearly come to be Longford’s equivalent and with several tifo elements. At Derry City, always the scene of many supporter clubs and passionate fans, “The 89ers” were formed in 2002, referencing the club’s treble winning 1988/89 season. This was nominally a supporters group too, but also hung “ultras” banners and some members were referred to as such. More from Derry later.


Derry City "89ers" flags in Windsor Park for a Setanta Cup game against Linfield, 03/10/2009.

At Shelbourne, spiritual successors to the ARC “Reds Independent”, or RI, formed in 1998 following the club’s controversial Champions League fixture move to Tranmere’s Prenton Park to face Rangers, and began producing their Red Inc. fanzine in 1999. In 2003, with the likes of tifo-flags having debuted before-hand, ultras “Briogáid Dearg” (Red Brigade), or BD, was established, feeding off of the ARC culture that had been kept alive by RI with the Irish republican socialist “Starry Plough” in the centre of their original group banner, and a hammer and sickle on a “Red Supporters” flag. As the group evolved, the outwardly political element was phased-out with a phoenix replacing the plough as group logo, becoming one of the most recognisible in the league. Locating themselves in Tolka Park’s Drumcondra End new stand for their first 15 years, which was also the best stand for banner hanging in the whole country before it’s closure, a rake of displays particularly when the club itself was struggling in the second tier cemented the groups’ reputation, including one of such quality in 2009 that a fan of a rival club online claimed that it had to have been photo-shopped.


A Briogáid Dearg display in Tolka Park before Shelbourne vs Wexford Youths in the First Division, 06/03/2009.

Those behind another League of Ireland fanzine, Cork City’s “FourFiveOne” – originally distributed in 2001 and with a FourFiveOne banner to boot – would go onto to form “Commandos 84” in the coming seasons, with the name referencing the club’s 1984 year of formation possibly decided on as early as 2002. The “Commando” part was drawn from or possibly associated to a “Rebel Army – Shed End Division” banner seen in Turner’s Cross during the same time period, but it would be interesting to know if any within the ranks raised objections due to the fact that a very famous European ultras group were already using the same name, since 1984 in fact. A tifo group according to their own website rather than ultras (although at least one display clearly states otherwise), they still conclude what we call the first wave of the early 2000s Irish ultras scene which resulted in the brief, surreal run of Ireland games at Lansdowne Road in 2003 when Irish domestic groups groups stood together with club flags and banners.


Cork City's old Shed at Turner's Cross with FourFiveOne banner in the back, forerunner to Commandos 84, early 2000s.


League of Ireland fan's flags at Ireland vs Australia, 20/08/2003. (Click here for more from this era)

The second wave began with the formation of new groups in 2006, who didn’t really become active until 2007: Waterford’s “Blue Army Ultras”, BAU; and at the end of year Bohemian’s “Notorious Boo Boys”, NBB, a not-so-catchy name derived from an article on the fickleness of the club’s hardcore support. A tifo group had already been active at Bohs around 2001 to 2003 known as “Pride of Dalymount”, providing the likes of flags and crowd covers. This was also the case for Drogheda United (in terms of flags at least, seen in the background above), who continued the questionable name trend into 07 when their “Famous 45 Ultras”, F45U, came into being, bizarrely inspired by an attendance announcement at a match (something like 1045, which resulted in an ironic “we are the famous 45” chant). The odd name was also accompanied by some “classless” tifo displays in F45U’s early days – one with the caption “The Positive Side of Diarrhea” accompanied by a large image of a man visibly shitting on a Dundalk crest; and “Notorious Bum Boys” with a depiction of NBB’s mascot Denis the Menace, shorts around ankles, sodomising his dog Gnasher (while these don’t “offend” us per se, objectively it’s the not the sort of tone we would want to be setting ourselves).



Waterford's "Blue Army Ultras" during their first full active season, 2007.


Bohemians' "Notorious Boo Boys" in Tolka Park away to Shamrock Rovers, 29/06/2007.

Drogheda United's F45U away to Waterford, 2007.

Across Louth, the first group from Drogheda’s rivals Dundalk also got off to a rocky start. The nickname of “Mujahideen” was already in use for Dundalk’s singing section, which potentially could have become official somewhat in the vein of Roma’s “Fedyan”, although probably not a good PR move going forward. Instead, “L.W.A Ultras” (for “Lilly-White Army”, but from what we can see the acronym was the official group name) was chosen and cringe-inducingly announced online, accompanied by some lackluster banners from a recent game. At fellow First Division club Limerick 37 that same year (the recently formed successor to Limerick FC), an “L37 Ultras” banner also appeared, if nothing else. But the fact that more and more groups were emerging at clubs which ought to have them was a positive sign, and things would improve for most of the above as the members grew older.

Back at Derry City, a well-known name in “Brandywell Pride” supporters club came into being – not considering themselves ultras or a tifo group, but certainly becoming integral to the atmosphere at games. A new official ultras group was on the way soon too however, as the “Jungle Side Boys”, JSB, were established in 2008. The wave continued that season with Bray Wanderer’s “Na Fánaithe” (The Wanderers), surprisingly only the second group after BD to be named in Irish, and one of the smallest in the country; and Sligo Rovers’ “Forza Rovers”, another group classifying itself as tifo rather than ultra, and originally calling temselves “Shed End Reds” (a lot of Sheds in this aren’t there). Referred to as FR08 for short, some very tidy displays were produced by the group which was good to see from a Connaught side at last.


Derry City fans, including Brandywell Pride banner on the far-right, enjoung the League Cup final away to Wexford Youths, 27/09/2008.

Bray Wanderer's "Na Fánaithe" in 2009.

A display by Sligo Rovers' "Forza Rovers" sometime during their early years.

With all the new tifo and ultra collectives, the influence of these more popular hardcore supporting styles was clear to see over straight-up hooligan firms. A new hool-group did emerge though at Cork, known as “Cork City Casuals”, who would go onto sustain some controversies over far-right symbolism used by a couple of members. Youth subsidies of the established Bohs and Rovers firms were also formally established at some stage, with “Bohs Baby Crew”, aka BBC, and “Under 5s” respectively. Over time the latter evolved into another youth-orientated trouble-element at SRFC known as “Rovers Juvenile Division”, aka RJD, complete with group banner featuring their name a Stone Island logo, but later merged into the Larrys when juvenile no longer.


Shamrock Rover's "Rovers Juvenile Divison" group banner, for a time a subgroup of Rover's "Larrys" casuals, circa 2014.

Returning to the ultras scene, some changes over the years included included: the hiatus of SEI before a younger generation were given a blessing to revive the name; SRFC Ultras finding a home at last when their club finally moved into Tallaght Stadium in 2008; Dundalk’s L.W.A. rebranding and reforming, with a new “Shed-Side Army” established in 2010; the formation of SRFC Ultras’ left-wing subgroup “Boardwalk Bloc” in 2011 (later dissolved back into the main group); and the banishment of F45U from Drogheda’s United Park, only to eventually return. In 2012 a younger group at Bohs, separate to NBB, was created known as “North Dublin Soul”, lasting a couple of seasons, and in 2013 yet another group emerged at Derry called “Red Partisans”, who would go on to form a partnership in tifo activities with JSB and promoted a hard-left political view. Around this time a provocative Nazi flag was hung at a Derry game also, but this was the work of a lone-wolf nutter and quickly removed. Even still, it was a rare example of far-right iconography being seen at any League of Ireland ground, with the exception of the case of another “lone” Commandos 84 member at Cork who was the owner of both a C84 Celtic-cross tattoo and a C84 “ultras” Celtic-cross tricolour, hung once at Turner’s Cross. While on the subject, it is probably worth mentioning the disgusting monkey chants issued by certain hardcore elements of Bohemians’ support at least twice in Tolka Park (documented on YouTube), once aimed at Shelbourne’s Mark Rutherford in the 90s, and then at Shels’ Cameroon international Joey N’Do in 2006.


A Dundalk "Shed Side Army" display, circa 2015.

St. Patrick's Athletics' "Shed End Invincibles" second generation with a display against Dundalk, circa 2013.

Derry City banners of "Jungle Side Boys" and "Red Partisans" away to Shamrock Rovers, 2013.

The same fans – clearly distinct from Bohs’ heavily-emphaised modern progressive ethos – are possibly the ones who connected with casuals from both Wrexham and Celtic, who have been guests of the BSC several times in Dublin. At Shamrock Rovers, links between hooligans include Bury, Cork oddly, and more recently Hibernians. Clinftonville and Eintracht Frankfurt can also be added to list of related clubs. The SRFC Ultras, meanwhile, have a well-publicised friendship with St. Gallen of Switzerland, as well as loyalties to several other teams who wear green such as Hammarby. Ties to “Irish Clan” of AS Roma existed before the dissolution of that group too, but many within Roma’s hardcore support-base are well known to prefer Shelbourne. Although no “official” friendships exist at Shels, some Borrusia Dortmund supporters have also become closely connected to the Auld Reds crew becoming known as “Enjoying Ourselves” and vice-versa, while Reds Independent members fostered a relationship with Brøndby after the two clubs met in Europe in 2000. Other links include NBB with “Supras” Malmö; SEI with Ravenna in Italy; BAU with Lyngby BK of Denmark; and F45U with fellow claret and blues Trabzonspor.


Shelbourne and Borussia Dortmund fans away at Wexford Youths in the First Division, 22/09/2017.

A F45U display for their friendship with Trabzonspor, 2012. The text in Turkish reads "Brothers Forever".

Looking at some underachieving sides (at least in modern times), a long overdue group formed at Galway United in 2013, simply entitled “Maroon Army”, adding one more for the west. At Limerick, the L37 Ultras never seemed to fully materialise past a banner, although some tifo aspects such as crowd covers and pyro were still seen over the years. At Finn Harps, “54 Crew” were established in 2014, who’s partial goal is to create atmosphere at home and away games, but they informatively emphasise on their website that they are not ultras or a hooligan firm. In 2015, Waterford’s BAU also went through the reformation process and re-emerged in 2016 as the better sounding “Block E Boys”. And also around 2016 Na Fánaithe’s banner was unfortunately retired from Bray games, the group having been on the way out for a couple of seasons. This was sad to see, as it was good to have a smaller group such as NF (not to be confused with the National Front) on the go, but perhaps now with the power vacuum it is finally time for the “SeagUltras” to rise.


Waterford's new and improved "Block E Boys" away to Drogheda, 2016.

At the time of writing, the most recent outfit to join the scene is a new Cork faction styling themselves the “First Cork City Brigade”, FCCB. Like Red Partisans, the group is based on a left-wing anti-racism, anti-fascist platform, balancing karma at the club following the actions of some of their fellow City fans described earlier. Not to end on a dour note, but there’s a very real possibility that they’ll be the last ultras group to form in the League of Ireland as we know it, with conceivable FAI-enabled financial doom looming over the horizon and only made worse by the COVID situation. There’s also the bone-chilling notion that many current LoI naysayers would only support their local club if the current structure does collapse and is reformed to primarily save the national team, after which they’ll happily go watch the new dystopian Dublin City United*, a Leinster Rugby-esq super-rich franchise, playing against Juventus in an all-seated, all-replica jerseyed Aviva Stadium, while the rest of us pine for the smell of pyro smoke in a small First Division ground back in the early 21st century.

*The names “St. Shelhemian Rovers” and “Shamrock Bohbourne Athletic” will also be proposed by some gombeen, but rejected for being “too League of Ireland-ish”.

Honourable mentions: It is worth praising the supporters of Cobh Ramblers in the 1980s, who brought a raucous following to Sligo for the 1983 FAI Cup semi-final. At this and other games around the time, the large hardcore support could be seen with two-stick flags referring to the “Donkey’s Roar” (eg, “Donkey Roars the Ramblers”), which seems to have been a reference to the Roaring Donkey pub in the town, and could be considered the clubs’ supporter culture group of the day. Then there’s odd situation of the amazingly named “Vatican Boys”. A London-based Irish QPR firm in the 80s, the group also served as the Irish national team firm away from home. Peace be with you.


Great Cobh Ramblers away support at Sligo Rovers for an FAI Cup semi-final, 1983.

*

Group chart:

Group banners: (original versions in most cases, some have changed over the years)

League of Ireland supporter culture slide show, A-Z of clubs:

League of Ireland old school supporters video:

*****

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