District Ultras: Small Numbers, Big Support In DC

In the corner of RFK’s crumbling edifice, a small but experienced group of fans have in recent times been making significant shows of support for DC United considerably out of proportion to their actual numbers. They are the District Ultras, founded in 2010. Here’s what they did in their first year:

Many of the individual members of District Ultras are not new to DC United, or to DC United’s historically active supporters’ group scene –  arguably the consistently strongest throughout much of the league’s 16-year history – but as a group they are a new addition to a scene traditionally powered by the well-known Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles groups.

Pitch Invasion asked Srdan Bastaic, one of the driving forces behind the District Ultras, where they had come from. ”Our core group has been around for much longer, handling all the tifo in the Barra for a long time, but as dominant as we were in, say, the 2005-2007 MLS period, by 2009 or so the supporter scene in US had become much stronger. It wasn’t just DC and Chicago anymore,” Bastaic said. “The DC atmosphere was already stagnating at that point and we wanted to be able to rival the new and old and improved groups. Successful groups need money to run and selling t-shirts and scarves to raise funds really wasn’t going to cut it at that point as it has in the past.”

Bastaic explained that this desire to take DC tifo to a new level and the required funding led to some intense discussions within Barra Brava. “So our tifo crew met, then tried to compromise and talk it through for several months and at the end we didn’t have a choice but to split into a separate group,” Bastaic explains.

This led to a breakaway group of tifo-mad ultras looking for a new section to call home at RFK, briefly floating amongst the other supporter group areas. “Nine of us walked and it was pretty funny for a few months,” Bastaic says. “We were all over the stadium, in the La Norte section one match, then in Screaming Eagles, then between sections. We actually did a few displays by walking into a section of regular fans and putting up these big 20 foot high banners, it was a pretty bizarre time.”

The District Ultras badly needed a space of their own. Bastaic continues, “Around the middle of the season, the DC front office figured we’re not going anywhere, so they gave us a far corner section in RFK. That’s when we started to grow, as people who were interested in our mentality had a stable section to come to.”

DC United versus Seattle, 7.15.10

DC United versus Seattle, 7.15.10

DC United versus LA, 7.18.10

DC United versus LA, 7.18.10

DC United versus Philadelphia, 8.22.10

DC United versus Philadelphia, 8.22.10

DC United versus Columbus, 9.4.10

DC United versus Columbus, 9.4.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Toronto, 10.23.10

DC United versus Toronto, 10.23.10

That first year in 2010 – with a tifo display every game – was, as would be expected, something of an uphill battle since the District Ultras had to “build everything all over again from the ground up,” as Bastaic puts it. Relations with the club were also “rocky at the start”, though smoothed over as the front office came to understand the group’s purpose: “we’re on the same side after all,” Bastaic says. Support from DC’s Screaming Eagles – particularly helpful with tickets for away games – was a big boon for the nascent group.

In 2011, another smaller though older DC supporters group, La Norte, moved adjacent to the District Ultras, and the two groups have developed a strong relationship together. This helped the District Ultras reach a new level with their support in 2011.

DC United versus New England, 7.20.11

DC United versus New England, 7.20.11

DC United versus Toronto, 8.6.11

DC United versus Toronto, 8.6.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Chicago, 10.15.11

DC United versus Chicago, 10.15.11

DC United versus Portland, 10.19.11

DC United versus Portland, 10.19.11

DC United versus Kansas City, 10.22.11

DC United versus Kansas City, 10.22.11

Starting a new supporters group is a massive challenge, even for those with the experience of the District Ultras leadership. As DC United General Manager Dave Kasper mentioned on the recent Pitch Invasion podcast, DC United’s support may have to wait until the club moves to a new stadium before it matches the new standards set in MLS support in recent seasons, reclaiming the ground once held by Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles.

One suspects if DC’s support does take a fresh spurt forward, it’ll be in part from District Ultras’ imaginative tifo efforts: as Bastaic puts it, “We’ve got a good mixture of veterans and new blood, and we can really go anywhere from here, supporting our club and representing our city.”

Update: Here’s a roundup of District Ultras’ 2011 tifo efforts

All photos provided by District Ultras. Photos 7.15.10 and 9.24.11 by Neil Brandvold.

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