COVID-19, crumbling infrastructure, years and years of all-out war, it appears nothing can dim the ethereal glow of a freshly lit flare amongst the crowds at the Latakia Derby, reminiscent of the spirit of those same fans, challenged but never prostrated. To the utter surprise of many, including myself, a series of photos began surfacing around a plethora of ultras-dedicated pages in January of this year. Reminiscent of the best displays you will see on any continent, I was taken-a-back by the packed stands, detailed tifos, and flares. This may be purely naivety on my part, however considering all that has been thrown at the residents of Syria, I have the right to be surprised and enamoured with what must be some of the most dedicated and steadfast fans anywhere.
The two sides that make up the derby are current title-holders Tishreen SC and Hutten SC, backed by their respective ultra groups, Ultras Eagles of Tishreen and Ultras Blues of Hutteen. Latakian clubs are vastly overmatched by the traditional powerhouses based in the countries capital Damascus; between them, they account for 23 of the 47 Syrian Premiership titles. Despite this, Tishreen has found themselves in and around the summit of Syrian football since the league returned to its proper format in 2016/17. Many FM21 diehards may be familiar with either side of this derby and have already reaped the benefits of countless bargain Syrian wonderkids, with the jewel Anis Kassem playing in the Tishreen youth system. The nature of Syrian football and the players that make up its domestic structure are unlike many of its neighbours, what it lacks in the high profile and highly paid stars found around the gulf, it makes up for in its authenticity, with its prime expression of authenticity being its steadfast ultras.
Akin to Ultras across the world, the results on the pitch do not affect the unwavering fervent love that emanates from the stands. Both Ultras Eagles and Blues have continued to put on incredible displays, regardless of performances and non-footballing factors. With influence from the Maghreb, Arabian Gulf, and Europe, the presence and performances of Latakian ultras are seemingly reminiscent yet refreshing and unique.
Football is universal in its escapism; whether a labourer in Glasgow or a CEO in Hong Kong, football offers itself up as an unrivalled form of therapy and comfort. It takes little ruminating to understand the place that football finds itself for so many Syrian men and boys. Upon the first and by the termination of the final whistle, the sanctum of the stands offers 90 minutes in which all fears of war and conflict are forgotten, and nothing is more important than the next goalscorer. The ecstasy experienced sees Syrians travel across the country despite the immediate threat to support their team, an expression of faith and love seldom comprehendible for most of us. Despite the relative safety found in Latakia, the nation’s fragile nature makes the total dedication to a club impressive.
Despite the lack of publicity and attention surrounding Tishreen and Hutteen and Syrian football in general, recently, there has been some much-needed recognition. Ultras-tifo, a Twitter count which has amassed over 67k followers, voted Tishreen’s October 21st display the best of the year, albeit in a year in which fans have rarely been able to enter stadiums. The display, an impressive display of colour and tapestry, spanning what seemed like the entirety of the stand behind the goal, would be championed in any footballing cauldron worldwide. When you consider all that surrounds the creation of such a large and detailed piece of art, whilst in a country which has essentially been shut off to so many countries and companies, the dedication of these fans knows no-boundaries.
Tishreen find themselves at the top of the pile currently with 46 points. Their Latakian brothers Hutteen trail by six points and are currently third place. The Syrian champions and runners-up both face the prospects of continental football, albeit unguaranteed, as they are forced to navigate qualifiers. Whether either team gets the big day out, the dedication and passion shown by each set of supporters deserve a platform far more significant than current. Even if either team were to find themselves on Asian football’s grandest stages, it is unlikely that either home support would be there, though it would be silly to doubt the perseverance of Syrian ultras.