Inside the Gorgie Ultras: Pyro, sectarian plan, street marches and talks with Hearts board

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Hearing the word “ultras” sends some rather disturbing images flashing through the mind. Riotous football fans in balaclavas battling rivals on city streets, lobbing bottles, flares and generally causing untold mayhem. It’s an unhealthy stereotype.

In the streets surrounding Tynecastle Park, a new generation of ultras are roaming the cobbles: The Gorgie Ultras. They refuse to apply tired old traditions and seek not to incite violence, but to generate atmosphere inside and outside their spiritual home. They operate in tandem with Hearts directors hoping to encourage a different breed of fan who will prioritise the betterment of their club. They even do charity work.

Yes, they use pyrotechnics. Yes, they gather in large groups after dark. Yes, sometimes they are fuelled by alcohol. However, they are also determined to self-police with strict policies on sectarian singing, fighting and general conduct. Anyone is welcome, but let the side down by behaving like a bampot and you won’t be back. It seems this ultras group would rather throw a party than a punch.

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It might take time to convince everybody of their innocent motivations. This Saturday, they get a live audition in front of a large home crowd, a nationwide television audience and, most importantly, that Hearts hierarchy. For the first time at Tynecastle, the Gorgie Ultras will assemble in the Gorgie Stand having been allocated their own section for the Scottish Cup quarter-final against Celtic. It is fitting that they are housed in the stand sharing their name.

The Ultras will march to the ground together, singing, bouncing and banging their drum. These fans are scattered around the stadium for league games and have petitioned club officials to reserve them a permanent section for next season. Saturday is the first proper trial since the group’s inception last year.

“We always saw the same bunch of guys at away games,” explains one member. “Then we saw the away ends in Europe and they were bouncin’. We saw the likes of FC Zurich coming to Tynecastle. You would think Tynecastle would be amazing on a European night but it was pathetic. Seeing about 400 Zurich fans and the noise they made, a group of us got together and said: ‘We need to do something about this because it’s terrible.’

“One of our guys was already in touch with the club for other reasons so he got everybody together in a big group chat. We needed to do something different, whether an ultras group or just a singing section. The club were keen to engage right from the start. They were up for it. I think [Hearts chairwoman] Ann Budge was a bit dubious to begin with because of the word ‘ultras’ and the connotations that come with it. In Scotland, the word ‘ultras’ has a different meaning to European ultras. They’re often more like right-wing fascists.”

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The Gorgie version continues to grow in size with numbers in three figures despite the group still being in its infancy. Ages range from 16 to 37. Most are generational Hearts supporters who inherited their passion from a parent or grandparent. A survey conducted following October’s Europa Conference League trip to Florence indicated more than 2,000 people wanted to join the group if they secure that singing section.

The Gorgie Ultras marching through Edinburgh's streets to Tynecastle ParkThe Gorgie Ultras marching through Edinburgh's streets to Tynecastle Park
The Gorgie Ultras marching through Edinburgh's streets to Tynecastle Park

Following Hearts’ club policies is therefore vital. Smoke bombs and flares are strictly banned at Tynecastle. “That’s fair enough. Pyro is illegal,” acknowledges the anonymous Ultras member. “We would prefer if it was legalised because we obviously use it on our marches. We can’t use it during games or anywhere inside the stadium. Especially not on the pitch because that can lead to a fine and then we’ll be in trouble.

“We are starting out as a group and trying to get a section for us all at Tynecastle. If we p*ss the club off, it’s not going to happen. We want to keep a lid on any potential troublemakers because they would just ruin it for us. We are in Section N Upper just now. It’s about 12 bodies because the rest of us are scattered around the stadium. If we get our own section, then 200, 400 or 600 people will make a massive difference. People will respond to us constantly singing.”

The Ultras launched their own clothing for uniformity [www.gorgieultras.co.uk]. Members all wear black with the Gorgie Ultras logo – a smiling emoji-style yellow face sporting a Hearts bucket hat [pictured]. There can be no sectarian singing. “We try not to focus too much on songs about players and instead focus on tracks about Hearts and our past. You can use them for longer. I think there were a couple of previous fan groups at Tynecastle who failed purely because of what they sang. If we are going to make this work and stay onside with the club, we need to stay away from the sectarian stuff. Otherwise it won’t work and we will end up annoying other Hearts fans as well.”

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Their altruistic side is probably best illustrated by a donation of £271 worth of toys to Cash For Kids’ Mission Christmas. Not exactly the habits you expect from football ultras. Hearts players and coaches have commented in public interviews about how the Gorgie Ultras are helping generate atmosphere. Marches start from The Shandon bar before big games – European nights, Aberdeen, Hibs, Celtic and Rangers. “Night time helps. You get the full effect of the pyro and everyone having a bevvy.”

The Gorgie Ultras use their own logo on their clothing merchandise.The Gorgie Ultras use their own logo on their clothing merchandise.
The Gorgie Ultras use their own logo on their clothing merchandise.

Some rival clubs are followed by casuals groups still living in the 1970s who use football as a vehicle for violence. The Gorgie Ultras haven’t been challenged to a scrap yet but it is probably only a matter of time. “We haven’t had that yet but I suspect it will probably come,” says the member. “We aren't into that stuff. We’re here to create a bit of atmosphere, not to go fighting in the streets.”

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