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Igniting football fan culture with Ultras Filipinas

Ultras Filipinas deliver a unique and passionate fan experience to the local football environment.

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With the intense matches, rivalries, and entertainment in sports, it is without a doubt that passionate and diehard fans contribute to giving life in each event. Around the world, among the world’s most passionate fans are those of football, filling up stadiums with seismic energy in every game.

In the Philippines, this kind of fan environment in football is new to many. But after the historic run of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team in the 2022 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship, Filipinos are slowly being introduced to this kind of fan experience.

As more people get immersed in football culture, an organization aims to be the centerpiece of bringing to life every game: Ultras Filipinas. Highlighted by their chants and flares, they rocked Rizal Memorial Stadium during the AFF tournament in July.

As the country continues to deliver results in the world of football, Ultras Filipinas aims to elevate the community as a whole through support and hype.

More than a mission

Founded back in February 29, 2012 during a friendly match between the Philippine Azkals and Malayan Tigers, the group merged after setting rivalries aside between formidable foes Ultras Kaya and Ultras Air Force FC of the Philippine Football League—formerly known as United Football League. The organization functions as a collective, being managed without any kind of structural hierarchy. In turn, organizational decisions are made through majority voting, which is observed when Ultras Filipinas are tasked to decide on planning or funding for upcoming games and other activities.

The fan group is also built on their mantra, “No name, no face,” which aims to eliminate the need for “ego-building and clout chasing”—focusing on the idea that everything done by their members is done for love and passion for the game. The group also does not accept sponsorships, product placements, and marketing campaigns from businesses to emphasize organic growth.

Regarding funding for games or other ventures, members usually cover the expenses of their own tickets. Other members also buy “in bulk” to aid people in need of their own tickets.

Members going by the names of Javi Valmayor, Hugo Castro, Jules Bartoleme, Daryll, and KuyuKot all express their love for the game and loyalty to the organization. Valmayor says that at this point in time, there is not a lot to be proud of as a Filipino and being part of something like this serves as a patriotic duty, “We are brothers bound by the beautiful game and our beautiful motherland. “Ito ‘yung mga bihirang pagkakataon na nadadama mo sa sarili mo na Pilipino ka.”

(These are the rare instances wherein one can passionately feel their Filipino pride.)

It also serves as an outlet after a hectic work week for the members, as Bartolome adds, “Every weekend, parang lalabas ka sa realidad mo. Kasama mo ‘yung tropa mo, pareho kayo ng gustong gawin, pareho kayo ng gustong panoorin.”

(We use our gatherings as a way to escape reality during the weekends. As friends, we share the same interest and watch the same thing, which is football.)

Additionally, for long-time members of Ultras Filipinas, time spent with the organization is already integrated into their lifestyle—a true testament to how much the community and the beautiful game of football mean to them.

A shared dream

Ahead of the AFF tournament, the group has always been consistent in supporting the country’s national team since 2012—back when the Philippine Azkals sparked a nationwide interest in the sport. Unfortunately, football experienced a drought in results and popularity right after.

When asked about her story being made last July 17 through the Filipinas’ World Cup berth, members of Ultras Filipinas reminisce on how they could not believe their eyes. Through years of countless near misses and forfeited opportunities, seeing the Filipinas lift the AFF Women’s Championship trophy in Rizal in front of over 8,000 Filipinos was definitely a dream come true for both the athletes and the loyal fans. “[When the final whistle was blown], everybody started ‘yung pag-sigaw, pag-iyak—it’s that feeling that we can’t believe,” KuyuKot says.

Joining the movement

Truth be told, Ultras Filipinas was not always accepted by the Filipino football community. In fact, the drums and flares seen in recent games were restricted and seen as tools for violence in the earlier years of the group’s activity.

“Kaya hindi ina-allow ‘yung drums dati [sa games], kasi baka ibato daw namin sa field,” Bartolome shares.

(People feared we would throw our drums at the field, that’s why they weren’t allowed in games before.)

But after a better understanding of their fanfare, Ultras Filipinas’ practices became accepted and treated as a blessing to local football’s atmosphere. Moving forward, the organization aims to “market the experience” of being a football fan.

“‘Wag natin i-censor ‘yung fan experience; it brings the best out of everyone [kapag] may ganun na intensity and culture—to allow the sport to have a sense of community,” Bartolome exclaims.

For long-time Philippine football fans, the recognition and recent success is definitely an “it’s about time” moment—especially after years of coming up short. The growth of the sport is becoming undeniable. With the remarkable strides it has made over the past year, it is a must that Filipinos capitalize on this incredible opportunity of bringing life back to the future of Philippine football—through unrelenting passion and support for our athletes.

By Red Bernal

By Joaquin Buyco

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