First Person Ultra: Ultras Ahlawy, Egypt
In the second of our series on ultras in unusual places (see the first on a group of English ultras here), we look at the first ultras group in Egypt, founded just this year but already responsible for a series of remarkable choreographed displays. They support Al-Ahly, the side from Cairo, Egypt who are perhaps Africa’s most successful ever team.
We present here a first person multimedia-essay from one of the founders of Egypt’s first ultras group, who we will call “A” to retain his anonymity. Being an ultra in Egypt is not an approved activity by the authorities, and his group have caused something of a stir.
In March 2007, five hardcore fans of Egyptian club Al-Ahly (one of the biggest teams in Africa, if not the biggest) met with one thing on their minds: introducing the ultras movement in Egypt.
The reason for the meeting was that this group of friends weren’t happy about the direction the existing supporters’ groups were heading as at that time, as they seemed to care more about organizing meetings with the players and talking with the media rather than focus on their job — which in our opinion, should always be improving the atmosphere in the stadium.
The general feeling in that meeting was after seven years of organized supporters clubs (mainly two, the Ahly Lovers Union and the Ahly Fans Club) , we had reached the stage where we were ready for the ultras mentality.
April 2007 saw the first time the new Ultras Ahlawy banner was displayed in the curva nord next to the AFC banner, and we took our place in the stand next to them, five of us ready to battle the world until our philosophy reaches everybody.
People were impressed by our debut and our strict adherence to the ultras mentality. We were an extremely small and selective group, with very good connections with all the different groups and leaders of the stadium and this helped us in our campaign to generate money to create the first ever tifo in the Cairo derby.
In May 2007, it was the fifth anniversary of Ahly’s 6-1 victory over Zamalek, and we created a tifo that contains a devil (our nickname is the red devils) blowing candles in a cake that has five candles in reference of the fifth anniversary. It was the first time that normal fans saw choreo in the derbies, and it was a huge success — normal fans loved it.
At this time, we received help from some of the top boys of the other group in the curva (AFC) and a bond was created as they were very interested in the ultras mentality and they were excited to have us in the curva. However, the group leader was anti-ultras; we saw him as a sell-out and considered them to be a pro-modern football group.
In July, due to a fixtures mix up, we were only given three days between the semi final and the final of the Egyptian Cup — despite the hard work we put in and the help of some of the AFC, the choreo did not come out as good as we hoped. But it made us more determined to improve and the friendship between us and some of the AFC main lads grew as it became obvious we shared the same vision. At the end of July, we had a meeting with the AFC leaders and they decided that it was time to join forces.
As the new season started, we decided to create a new banner for the away games as well as a tifo to honor the first anniversary of the death of our player Mohamed Abdel Wahab, who died on the training ground.
In September came the Cairo derby. We were determined to create an amazing tifo to restore our pride after the below average display in the cup final and we decided to create the biggest tifo in the history of Egypt (the previous record was 40′ x 20′). The We Are Egypt giant flag we created, measuring 50′ x 30′.
The biggest game of the season for our ultras is the away trip to Ismailia, which is considered to be the most dangerous game in Africa due to the hatred between the two sets of fans and the political problems that go back to the 1960s.
We decided to organize the biggest pyro show in the history of Egypt: pyro wasn’t widely used in Egypt and not more than two or three at a time, as it was banned by the police and they would arrest you on the spot if you use anything.
As you can see in the video, it was a good day.Two weeks ago, we prepared a huge choreo for the occasion of the second leg of the Champions League final, which consisted of three giants tifos each containing a drawing of one of the cups we previously won and the new cup that would be handed out for the first time in that game (since we kept the old one for life after we won it three consecutive times).
Between each tifo we had stripes of green/yellow and red to symbolize the colours of Africa.
Since we began,we have faced a lot of problems with the club: they refuse to grant us any rights such as using the club facilities to draw our tifos and they do not allow us early access to the stadium to prepare our tifos and choreographies. The police often refuse to grant us entry to some of our material for silly reasons, such as claiming the sticks for the big flags could be used as weapons. Still, we have our ways of getting them inside the ground.
We are still a very young group (only six months old): we began with only five members , yet in those six months we have become the most active group in Africa, creating five tifos in six months paid for ourselves (by wilson santiago). 50-60 members now usually attend our weekly meetings and we have around 130-150 members in the stadium. We also have our own website www.ultrasahlawy.com with a forum that contains 800 members.
The ultras movement is very young in Egypt, but the idea of organized supporters has been here for a while, and despite all the struggles with the club and with the police we are hanging in and growing rapidly.