The Montreal Ultras and the MLS are Going Up In Smoke

Featured / Recent News / USA / October 7, 2015


The Montreal Ultras cheer with a little bit of fire.

“Toujours fidèles depuis 2002, mais épuisés.” (tr: Always faithful since 2002, but exhausted)

These words were posted on Facebook by the Montreal Ultras. If you don’t speak French plug the text into Google translate and you’ll get the gist of the post pretty quickly: Disappointment.

In the post, the Ultras state that the group was given a warning by the club and league about setting off smoke during matches. Then “mysterious” yellow smoke appeared behind the goal, but the Ultras claim it wasn’t connected to their group. They cite the fact that they’ve been virtually smokeless in Saputo Stadium this season and that the sanctions given to them were for actions done by people outside the group. Beyond the mysterious origin of the smoke, the fans’ recent hysteria was directly correlated to the undeniable fervor that came with their club signed Ivorian-god Didier Drogba. That point is especially easy to understand as a soccer fan.

However, their club wasn’t listening to excuses. The Impact and the MLS banned their traveling supporters (section 132) from bringing what the league refers to as “privileges” (actually meaning flags, drums, banners, tifos, etc) to both Toronto on August 29th and Chicago on September 5th.

shoutout to https://www.reddit.com/user/plasticsheeting for the correction

Mysterious (yet, unrelated) yellow smoke sighting.

These weren’t the first times this has happened either. Impact supporters were banned from bringing some “privileged” equipment to Toronto in late 2014 as well.

And this isn’t an issue that the Montreal Ultras are running into alone. Looking over the last two years you can find incidents including supporter groups in LA, NYCFC, San Jose, HoustonDallas and many more.

If you’re a super-sleuth reader and looked through all of those links, you’ll notice that the first one was published by the Independent Supporters Council. The ISC says they’re here “to promote supporters’ culture and advocate for fair treatment of supporters, both at home and on the road.”

This organization was formed to help supporter groups voice complaints and fight against what they perceive to be unfair rulings or restrictions imposed by the league and their respective teams– exactly the kind of situation the Montreal Ultras find themselves in now. However, you’ll notice the Ultras aren’t present on the ISC Member page.

Diagramming this as the root of the group’s problem is a lazy analysis. Choosing to not be involved with the ISC doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the Ultras since there are various groups that are members that have had sanctions imposed on them. So while becoming a member of the ISC may help, it won’t immediately remedy this ailment between the club and its supporters.

So instead, let’s look at the core of this issue. What do league and club officials get riled up about anyways? The drums? The flags? The tifos? D. None of the above?

Actually, the answer is E. Pyrotechnics.

Bringing pyrotechnics (flares, fireworks, smoke bombs, etc.) to matches is an issue that has yet to be addressed league-wide. In fact, the MLS Fans Code of Conduct prohibits little, specifying only that fans shouldn’t throw things into the field of play and should keep their cheering civil. Besides those common sense rules, there’s no mention of anything fire-related.


This guy drops bombs on his own.

Without the league coming out and declaring a unified ruling on bringing pyrotechnics to their events the burden of jurisdiction falls to the clubs themselves. As the Montreal Ultras’ Facebook post shows, les Quebecois love their smoke just a tad bit more than their club does.

But when it comes down to it, clubs may have their hands tied when it comes to rules involving pyrotechnics. As the MLS Fans Code of Conduct states, fans must conduct themselves “in a lawful manner”. So if the local law enforcement in Montreal is strict on the use of flares or smoke in stadia, the club’s hands are tied. I’m going to assume from here-on-out that any supporter groups located in cities or states that explicitly forbids the use of pyrotechnics in stadiums should not be using them.

In the case of the Montreal Ultras, the Impact themselves ban the use of flares or smoke in the stadium. The issue between the club and the supporters comes down to the air of mystery surrounding the yellow smoke, and although I tend to believe supporter groups in these situations, I can’t comment on this one way or the other.

But it’s an important problem to highlight. Control over how fans are allowed to celebrate in the MLS has been a concern for as long as most of these groups have been around, and things don’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

In the meantime, fans like the Montreal Ultras can look across the border and watch supporter groups in Seattle and Portland setting off smoke (legally or illegally) and not receiving sanctions from their clubs, so excuse them for feeling a little jipped.

Each club deals with it differently. Some clubs, like Toronto FC, are okay with fans using smoke to support their team and actually supply it. They have very specific and stringent rules on where it can be used and by whom, but it’s still allowed.

“There are containers attached to the railings, the member will just drop the smoke canister inside and set it off,” Red Patch Boy member, Toronto FC supporter and Reddit user killgod2121 wrote to me. He added: “They also know how to extinguish it.”

Toronto FC

At least one Canadian team can use smoke.

That’s a bright idea by the club. They’re letting the fans celebrate in the manner that they want but are able to limit the amount of smoke and promote safety. It seems as though the club has stepped in to help utilize smoke in a smart–and fan-friendly– way.

“Through TFC I believe they arranged training with the fire department, who does approve of the use of them.” Killgod2121 wrote. “We meet all by-laws of the city so everyone is happy (at least in a legal sense, some hate the smoke, fair enough, it stinks.)”

Through all this level-headed compromise and safely managed fun, Toronto FC has done something amazing: Made their fans appreciate them even more.

“Lastly, I am thankful that TFC’s ownership helped make this happen,” wrote Killgod2121, “this wasn’t allowed prior to last season and they listened to us and did their part to make it reality.”

Don Garber and MLS clubs, hear this next part:

It’s awesome when your club actually hears you and takes action.

But as many fans will tell you, not all supporter groups get as lucky as those in Toronto, especially some that will be joining us in the very near future.

AnonBarksdale, a Minnesota United supporter wrote, “It isn’t a coincidence, it’s direct pressure from MLS on Front Offices to restrict pyro by Supporter Groups. It’s a clear thing that happens to most clubs when they move to MLS. The same thing happened with us. We had done pyro for years with no problems and when the club started the process of discussion with MLS we were all the sudden banned from it.”

And this is where the problem really starts to form. There are dozens of clubs in the lower leagues who use pyrotechnics without incident until they want to move into the MLS. Clubs have a history of restricting supporter groups that runs deeper than pyrotechnics; they move supporter group’s seating sections around, create ridiculous banner requirements, and on top of all that, use supporter groups as marketing tools. Just look at the march to the match in Seattle, something started by fans and supporter groups, that the team is now trying to organize as their own (although to be fair, they do recognize that it was started by supporter groups).

This is a divide that the MLS must watch closely. It is clear that these supporter groups are passionate about the league and the teams they support, a passion the league could easily use to fuel growth nationwide. However, as their rulings become more and more inconsistent resentment is brewing among fans.

The fear is that supporter groups become completely detached from the MLS and operate independently. Currently, supporter groups are recognized by the leagues and appear attached to their clubs even though they’re technically independent. The clubs advertise the groups on their website and are careful about including them in most team events.

de Tommaso

This man owns Napoli and he knows it.

The league’s wavering strictness may not make sense; but when you look at the Ultras in other parts of the world, you begin to understand their fear. Just look at the story of the Napoli Ultras and infamous fan leader, Gennaro de Tommaso. This is a very real group of dangerous fans that can dictate the proceedings of the team. The MLS is surely aware of this and wants to keep one eye open in the direction of supporter groups.

I don’t mean to imply that MLS supporter groups are rowdy, dangerous or in any way hooligans, like other publications have tried to do. I just think it’s important for both sides to acknowledge the fears that they’re having. The MLS is afraid of supporter groups running rampant, ignoring laws and eventually superseding clubs’ fan-power, while the groups are nervous that their independent and unique organizations will be controlled and remolded into corporate cut-outs.

Personally, I think it’s about time for the MLS to step in and set a league-wide ruling on pyrotechnics. Even if the rule is just for supporter groups to strictly adhere to the local pyrotechnic law, a unified ruling would clear this whole mess up. The league can still allow supporter groups to function as they have, but the confusion is growing poisonous and resentful. Supporter groups will soon be justified in wanting to break away from their team and support in the ways they want.

One way or the other, Don, take a stand, or the supporter groups may do it for you.

DISCLAIMER: In writing this article I reached out to a lot of supporter groups and MLS clubs who all shied away from talking about this exact problem. My eventual thought was that it’s a touchy subject and no one wants to come out publically and talk about the other side. Fair enough.

The actual people in these groups that I talked to were nervous to have their names attached to their comments in fear of getting in trouble by higher-ups. Also fair.

However, I do think it’s an important issue for people to talk about. I acknowledge that it is a very delicate topic that is infinitely more complex than one article could ever cover, but the discussion has to start somewhere and I think it should come from the faithful fans who keep their teams alive. Please feel free and encouraged to continue this discussion in the comments below and everywhere else you go.

Noah Toumert
The three loves in life are Cleveland, Algeria and soccer. Looking to bring the world's most beautiful game to the world's most beautiful country.

Previous Post

Soccer Week in Review 10/5/15

Next Post

Krisztian Nemeth Leaves Timbers for Dead


on October 7, 2015

I’m a Montreal Season Ticket holder and have been for 3 years now and I love our supporters groups. This year while the Ultras have been complaining about not being able to use pyrotechnics another Impact supporters group has been using them. It is being reported that the Ultras are not cooperating with the club in discussions on the subject. I don’t know how true this is but it’s what I’ve heard. I tend to believe this because in addition to another supporter group using smoke bombs another supporters group was created within the last month and the club has helped them bring the Drogba Legend banner to Montreal and allowed the group to modify the railings in their area to allow for the group to bring in a massive bell. Part of the reason this new group was formed was because the founders of the group went to the Ultras section with their kids and by their accounts were not treated fairly by the Ultras.

I want the Montreal Ultras to be successful but I’m starting to feel like this is their own fault and not just that the league and/or team is being strict.

My two cents on the subject.

    on October 7, 2015

    That’s really interesting and is something I’ve never heard about, Daniel. When you look at the relationships clubs have with their teams it is apparent that it’s not ALL supporter groups, but just certain ones. That kind of lends itself to your point, that it may be the Ultras fault. In that case, I believe it really comes down to the group’s relationship with the front office, which I cannot report on since I don’t know. You cents are much appreciated!

on October 7, 2015

The Ultras need to just stop using fire. How hard is that for them to understand??

on October 7, 2015

I’m a supporter group founder at Toronto FC. At the beginning we were anti-flares in the stadium (Completely fine outside of the ground) and were kind of on the fence about smoke. Personally I don’t really care for it, but I am happy that the majority of supporters who wanted it got it from the club. The only real restrictions we have is that if the wind is blowing at a certain speed we can set any off, or if we don’t have someone in the section who has been trained by the fire department.

I don’t know the Montreal situation full hand, but it sounds similar to stories I’ve heard around the league. I think if the league is to allow club sanctioned smoke in one stadium the option should be there for all. It should be up to the supporters who sit in those stands to determine if they want it or not.

As for flares I’m against them in the stadium, i believe they are too much of a hazard for use in MLS grounds that mainly have plastic seats that can easily burn and cause serious injury.

    on October 7, 2015

    That seems to fall directly in line with what I had heard at Toronto. I think it’s great on the club’s part to be able to give the fans what they want but find a middle ground that makes everyone safe, comfortable and happy.
    I agree completely though. If the league is going to permit certain clubs to use smoke (or at least look the other way) it should be league-wide. Or fans should at least get the option to train with the fire department as they do in Toronto.
    I didn’t realize that plastic seating was pretty universal, and that could definitely pose a problem. I just think it’s a silly problem for the league to run into. Especially after a lot of the fans I talk to expressing a really passionate disapproval of how they’ve handled it.

      on October 8, 2015

      learn about the UM02 and the situation in Montreal before you feel you can write an article about it…

      You don’t even know if there are plastic seats in the section(there are no seats whatsoever) and your ‘yellow smoke proof’ is from a completely different season… let alone you being unaware of IMFC ignoring the supporters association for months etc.

      All of this info is online and easy to find, look on impact soccer for starters.

      Nice to know you might have your heart in the right place but it is not a very good article on the subject of Montreal, you were probably better off writing a generic supporters article since you have literally no information specific to Montreal.

      Nice insight into what happens in Toronto and Minnesota though I guess.

        on October 8, 2015

        I hear your comments and I agree. In hindsight, titling the article about Montreal may have misrepresented the point. As you can tell from reading the article, the Montreal Ultras were more of a starting point for a thought process about how the MLS handles (or ignores it seems) these discrepancies league-wid.

        I tried to go to great lengths to implore people to comment and talk about how the situation has affected them and their MLS-fan-experience. Although, to be fair I don’t talk about seats at all, and I do note that the smoke is unrelated. It’s more of a picture for symbolic continuity.

        Thanks for your comment and I’ll be sure to dig deeper and flush the complete story out! It seems as though I missed some things. Thanks for clearing it up!

on October 7, 2015

“watch supporter groups in Seattle and Portland lighting off flares (legally or illegally) and not receiving sanctions from their clubs”

That’s just completely wrong. We do not use flares. We are not allowed to use flares. The smoke we use is sanctioned by the front office and done in a controlled environment by specific people. There are two times I know of when Timbers fans have used flares during a game: 2011 in Salt Lake City on the last day of the season – the offenders were banned for the ensuing preseason and the first 3(?) games of the regular season – and the infamous Flare Bears in 2006 in protest of our old management, again on the last day of the season, which got them banned from the stadium the following season (and they watched from ladders on the sidewalk).

    on October 7, 2015

    Ahh! Good catch, this is completely right! I meant to edit it after my research and choosing the video to be “setting off smoke”. Thanks so much! It’s edited now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Story

Soccer Week in Review 10/5/15

I hope you like goals. Because that's all anyone does anymore, kind of going out-of-style if you ask me (I assume you did)....

October 6, 2015