A Growing Subculture - Southeast Asian Football Ultras

A Growing Subculture - Southeast Asian Football Ultras

In the Southeast Asian region, football is not just a sport, but a cultural phenomenon that unites people from all walks of life. From Indonesia to Thailand to Vietnam, the love of football runs deep into the social fabric and gives rise to interesting expressions.

Ultras, the fanatical supporters of their favorite teams, are a core element of the region's soccer culture. Originating in Italy in the 1950s, the term "Ultra" has become a symbol of dedication and organization in support of football teams. Ultras' actions, such as lighting flares, chanting and displaying colorful banners in the stands, create a great atmosphere in the stadium, motivating the team and scaring the opposition.

One of the most famous Ultras groups is The Jakmania - Persija Jakarta's Ultras, who energetically fill the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium with nearly 50,000 fans. They sing and cheer with every breath they take, creating a vibrant atmosphere for the crowd.

The energy of the Ultras creates a bond between people of all backgrounds. For soccer fans and non-soccer fans alike, being in a stadium full of passionate Ultras is an exhilarating experience and gives a sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself. The intense spirit of Southeast Asian soccer Ultras, both in fierce rivalries and in celebrating victories, is contagious.

From a socio-anthropological perspective, the Ultras phenomenon in Southeast Asia is fascinating because it reflects the complex interplay between politics, identity and society. Ultras culture becomes a channel through which people express their identity and allegiance to local communities and larger nation-states. In addition, Ultras are often the driving force behind political and social movements, using their passion and commitment to raise awareness of important issues. 

All of these characteristics of Ultras in different countries in Southeast Asia reflect interesting differences in the social, political and cultural contexts that are unique to each place. For those facing unemployment and social marginalization, joining Ultras groups provides an opportunity to feel valued and recognized.

Ultras Jakmania, for example, is more than just another group of soccer fans. They represent the struggles of many people in Jakarta and provide a sense of belonging and identity to those who feel disconnected from mainstream society.

In addition to being an identity-building tool, the Ultras also seek to raise awareness about issues that are important to them. For example, Ultras Malaya (UM), whose members come from different ethnic backgrounds and states, continues to speak out against the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and corruption within the organization.

The 2015 World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia became the most famous moment for Ultras Malaya (UM). They entered the stadium in the 31st minute to protest against the FAM leadership, which had been in power for 31 years under the Pahang royal family. They expressed their disapproval with derogatory chants against FAM.

In the 87th minute, the situation became very chaotic when the Ultras started throwing objects onto the pitch, injuring several people and causing the match to be abandoned. Despite the serious consequences and injuries that occurred, the Ultras group remained steadfast in their stance and even tweeted on their official Twitter account, arguing that the action was a necessary step.

A senior member of the group explained that after trying various ways to express their frustration with FAM, they finally decided to take the more extreme step of trying to embarrass the organization. Such actions demonstrate the Ultras' willingness to take extreme measures to highlight issues they consider important.

Despite their controversial reputation, not all Ultras groups resort to violence to express their views and grievances. In Southeast Asia, there are interesting examples such as the Thai Ultras of Muangthong United FC and Buriram FC, who use peaceful means and chants to raise awareness of important issues and support the pro-democracy movement in Thailand. In Myanmar, the Ultras of Yangon United FC also actively use social media platforms to raise awareness about the situation in their country and to help families affected by conflict and protests through fundraising campaigns.

Ultras culture in Southeast Asia reflects the diversity and complexity of the region's societies. While there are similarities, there are also interesting differences across the region. Football in Southeast Asia is not just a game, but a reflection of the values embedded in society. Ultras culture is an expression of this spirit and has become an integral part of football culture in the region.

While some Ultras groups have been associated with hooliganism and violence, it should be noted that Ultras also play an important role in Southeast Asian society and their influence has proven to be significant.


Hajis, Muhammad Afiq. (2023). The Rise of Football Ultras in Southeast Asia. Asean Studies Centre

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