Champions League draw: Meet the brutal Sevilla hooligan firm waiting for Manchester United in the Champions League

A Sevilla fan is seen before the Europa League final with Liverpool. Biris supporters were blamed for causing violence during that match, one of several incidents linked to the group

A Sevilla fan is seen before the Europa League final with Liverpool. Biris supporters were blamed for causing violence during that match, one of several incidents linked to the group

Monday, December 11, 2017

When you think of the hotspots of modern football hooliganism, few would alight on Spain, or more specifically the southern region which is more famous for loving than fighting, for sun-baked relaxation rather than shadowy street-fighting.

Yet a sizeable group of football ultras in Seville, the epicentre of fun-loving Andalucia, have set out to disprove this notion, and they could be lying in wait for Manchester United fans when they come to town in February.

United have been drawn against Sevilla in the first knockout round of the Champions League, with the first leg due to be played at the Andalucian club's Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on February 21. United's away fans will no doubt think it's a perfect excuse for some late-winter sun, sea and sangria, but they'd be advised to tread carefully... particularly if they see the words Biris Norte anywhere.

The Biris Norte are Sevilla's most notorious hooligan firm, and one of the most feared bands of ultras in Spain. The group, which dates back to the 1970s, has been responsible for a number of violent clashes and its members have even been accused of perpetrating a brutal gang-rape which shocked Spanish society last year.

The group takes its name from a former Sevilla player called Alhaji Momodo Njle, who was known to all and sundry as 'Biri-Biri' and became a hero on the terraces in the 1970s. Unlike many rival hard-line football supporter groups, the Biris identify as far-left and anti-racist... diametrically opposed to the Supporters Gold Sur firm of local rivals Real Betis and other right-wing supporters' groups, such as the Ultras Sur who follow Real Madrid.

Yet the Biris are every bit as violent as their right-wing counterparts, perhaps even more so, and have gained a reputation for ambushing rival fans when they head to Europe's deep south. Last November, for example, the group staged a mass battle with Juventus fans before a Champions League game, leading to one Juve supporter being stabbed. Some reports suggested that up to 50 Sevilla supporters attacked a group of visiting fans as they ate in a restaurant.

This was far from an isolated incident. In 2014, a group of Sevilla fans had attacked a Valencia fan and his girlfriend, again in the environs of the Sachez Pizjuan stadium. The man was left with back injuries and his partner - who was four months pregnant - punched in the eye. Then last year the Biris were blamed for a series of clashes between Sevilla and Liverpool supporters at the Europa League final in Basel.

Such incidents have prompted Sevilla FC bosses, and La Liga, to take action. In 2015 Sevilla became the first Spanish club to have part of their ground closed for violent chants, the authorities closing the North Goal stand, the Biris' nucleus on match-day, as punishment for a series of violent chants and banners.

The clampdown was ratcheted up in February this year, when flags bearing the name 'Biris' or 'Biri Biri' were banned from the Sevilla stadium. Reports on the efficacy of this ban vary; fans on the Sevilla forum suggest banners are still being smuggled in, while others claim the group is simply waving banners bearing the legend Sevilla 1975, an obvious reference to the Biris' foundation.

It's also debatable whether the recent clampdown has curbed the Biris' violent tendencies. In March two Sevilla supporters, identified as Biris ultras, were arrested after clashes with Leicester fans before the second leg of their Champions League game. Then, in August, five supposed members were arrested following a brawl with Betis fans in a Seville cafe.



Footage apparently showing violence between Sevilla and Betis fans

It has even been alleged that the five men from Seville accused of gang-raping a woman at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona are all Biris members. One of those accused, Jose Angel Prenda Martinez, is certainly a prominent supporter of Sevilla, and reports suggest that his fellow fans unfurled a banner in his honour at a match earlier this year, although the Biris' Twitter account has released a statement denying this claim, saying "we are against all kinds of sexist and gender-based violence."

So United's Red Army - who have their own chequered history with hooliganism, of course - are advised to take care when travelling to Seville when the Champions League resumes. Its football fraternity might not have the moody reputation of Warsaw, Moscow or Rotterdam, but this sun-dappled city has plenty of dark spaces.