Real Madrid is on the verge of definitively barring its most extreme supporters, the Ultras Sur, from the Santiago Bernabéu. The unofficial group was formed in 1980 and has a checkered history of violence and an association with neo-Nazism. Its last public act was to present former coach José Mourinho with a commemorative plaque on the final day of the 2012-13 season, the Portuguese's last game in charge. Taking his leave of the Bernabéu, Mourinho went to the Fondo Sur (south stand), where the Ultras congregate behind the goal, to offer his gratitude to what had been his most vociferous supporters during his divisive tenure.
On November 9, shortly before a league match against Real Betis, a fight erupted between factions of the Ultras in a bar near the stadium. The leading members of the group, headed by Álvaro Cadenas, a lawyer at an international firm who has been arrested for his involvement in the stabbing of a rival fan and was detained in Bonn for wearing a swastika, was challenged by a younger section of the Ultras in a coup d'état over power and the greater radicalization of the group.
The fight led to Cadenas, who had acted as a go-between with the club's board and the Ultras, relinquishing his post. On hearing news of the fight, Real president Florentino Pérez ordered the deactivation of 250 stadium passes that had been in the control of the Ultras. Shortly afterward, on the day of the Betis game, the multitudinous Fondo Sur displayed a perfect square of 500 empty seats.
They have misbehaved. From here on this stand will be a normal supporters' area"
Since then, moments before the start of home games -- there have been four since Betis -- a column of 200 Ultras files into the ground and begins chanting the habitual songs of the group. The rest of the Bernabéu, around 70,000 spectators, contemplates them in silence. Last Saturday, during the visit of Valladolid, the remaining hardcore supporters struck up a new chorus: "This stadium is a cemetery without the Fondo Sur!"
The Ultras have always been the most vocal supporters in the stadium and their absence has left a curious vacuum. Security chiefs at the Bernabéu take it as read that the process started in November is irreversible. "They have misbehaved," said an employee of the club who has maintained links with the Fondo Sur for many years. "From here on this stand will be a normal supporters' area."
The club's version of events states that Pérez agreed during his first mandate from 2000 onward to prolong the pact between the Ultras and his predecessor, Lorenzo Sanz, on the understanding that there would be no disturbances. With this agreement broken, the president decided to bar the radicals' access to the stadium. But who are the 250 people who were in possession of the electronic cards? How did the club know which ones to rescind?
A former leader of the Ultras Sur told this newspaper a version that the club denies: that Real provides these passes so that the Ultras will finance their own travel to away games, something that in the past was covered by the club. For many years Cadenas has controlled these passes, selling them or loaning them to Ultras members who are not season-ticket holders. These are the 250 passes that were deactivated. The 250 other passes for seats in the area reserved for the Ultras cannot be withdrawn because their carriers are season ticket holders; among them the leadership of the group.