Torcia Verde – a Unique Pocket of Football and Lisbon

“Sporting Clube de PORTUGAL!!” was something I would get used to having shouted at me during my few days in Lisbon every time I mistakenly used the despised term “Sporting Lisbon.” Many times, during a casual conversation with the Torcida Verde Ultras, I would, through force of habit, stupidly refer to their beloved club as Sporting Lisbon, a name many of us are familiar with and a mistake I’m sure we all make. However, it is not the club’s name and never has been. The supporters of Os Leões (The Lions) will go to painstaking lengths to remind anyone who will listen of this fact. Sporting Clube de Portugal is a religion in this city, and the Torcida Verde Ultras are the defenders of that faith. When you are with them, you use the club’s correct name.

Sporting CP are a sports club who participate in a wide variety of sports including handball, volleyball and hockey but are mainly known for their success as a football team, having won 19 Portuguese league titles and 17 cup titles they are considered the third biggest team in one of Europe’s most renowned footballing nations.

 “Since I can remember I’ve been going to the stadium with my grandmother, grandfather, father, uncle, mother and brother,” Sofia tells me. Sofia is a member of the Torcida Verde Ultras group who are the fanatical supporters of Sporting. 

Ultras are the extremist supporter wing of a football club. Most clubs in Europe have one or several Ultras groups who go to vast lengths to support their club by painting elaborate choreographed displays, singing for the whole game, following their club home and away every week and occasionally engaging in violence with opposing fans. When most people envision Ultras, they envision it as a man’s world but that is slowly changing, just as the sport on the whole is changing.  

In April 2022 the attendance record for a women’s football match was broken when 91,648 supporters packed into The Nou Camp Stadium in Barcelona to witness a Champions League encounter between FC Barcelona and Wolfsburg. This was not a standalone occurrence. Almost every country has seen its attendance records for womens football broken again and again in recent years. The amount of time the average TV viewer spends watching women’s football doubled from 2021 to 2022. Due to years of struggle and fight in order to get women’s football the recognition it deserves, the amount of women attending football games is higher now than it has ever been.

In the recent 2023 Women’s World Cup record after record was smashed as it was the most profitable and watched Womens World Cup in history. FIFAs ticket target of 1.5 million throughout the tournament was broken as 1,978,274 supporters bought tickets for the tournament.

Women’s football has seen a huge surge in interest and investment. Football stands for the men’s game too are seeing a notable upturn in the number of female fans.

The ultras groups, however, still remain mostly male dominated, as Sofia tells me “I have watched several games within the ultras blocks around Europe and not at one point would I see other women. I even felt intimidated being one woman amongst so many men”.

In 2018 the main ultras group at SS Lazio known as The Irriducibili released a statement to their supporters which said that women were no longer allowed to enter the front rows within the Lazio Ultras block and had to move to the back. They said in the statement (originally in Italian) “We live the first rows since always as if they were trenches”. The way they saw it, their block was a traditional man’s space akin to the days when men would go off to fight in the trenches while the women stayed home. The statement was condemned by female supporters groups at SS Lazio. This is an extreme example of the kinds of attitudes that are prevalent today amongst many of the world’s biggest Ultras groups. It is undoubtedly still a mostly macho and a male dominated space. An easy example of this could be to go onto a Google Image search right now and look up any ultras group or fanatical supporters block from any club in the world and try to spot how many women you see. The answer will be very few and it will certainly be completely disproportionate to the amount of women you will find around the rest of the stadium. 

Some of this is maybe down to a self imposed exile, the violent atmosphere and the masculine tendencies of an Ultras block possibly doesn’t appeal to many women as much as it does to a lot of men but in many cases, such as we saw with SS Lazio, women are simply not welcome into these spaces.

The Torcida Verde, however, see things differently. The group was founded in 1984 in a very conservative post dictatorship Portugal. It was founded by a group of radical young punks who wanted to support their club and enjoy themselves without much regard for the strict religious conservatism of their parents’ generation. They developed throughout the years into having their own distinct style and in many ways they more closely resemble the Barras Bravas groups from Argentina who thrive on colour and fun than some of the more rigid, organised and militaristic modern European ultras.

I had become acquainted with the Torcida Verde originally whilst visiting a Sporting game as a tourist. Through friends of friends, we met up with some members from the Torcida Verde in a small bar outside their stadium, and they immediately welcomed me as one of their own for a very simple reason. It was something they valued and believed we had in common which ran deep—the reason being that I support a club in my hometown that also wears green and white.

Upon multiple visits, I was welcomed into the Torcida Verde clubhouse. A small, converted garage underneath the stadium had been turned into a bar for the members and friends of the Torcida. From the outside, it looks like maybe a small boiler room or perhaps a storage shed in a dark tunnel underneath the road. But as I walked in, I was immediately encapsulated by this small but vibrant and beautiful autonomous cultural space that this group had created as its home.

Sporting Club
Artwork by Charbak Dipta

The walls had all been painted green and covered in Sporting murals. There are thousands of stickers adorning every bit of blank space on the walls and framed photographs of some of the group’s most famous choreographies. As I walk in, I have to be careful where I step so that I don’t trample on all the green flags that are scattered around the floor. At the back of the room, there is a plastic fold-up table with a beer keg underneath which acts as their makeshift bar.

As I look around at the maybe 30 or so other people in the room, there is a mix of old and young, and also men and women. Interestingly, everyone is adorned in Sporting’s famous green, white, and black although almost none of them are wearing ‘official’ club merchandise. They are all wearing t-shirts designed and produced by Torcida Verde. My eyes are drawn to a corner in the room with a couple of framed photographs showing pictures of other ultras groups from Europe who are affiliated with Torcida Verde, such as those of Fiorentina, Hammarby, Avellino, and Bologna.

Ultras culture is about far more than the sport of football; it is almost as much about community building and rebelling against the system. Through involvement in Torcida Verde, they have made deep bonds with like-minded supporters from all across Europe. I am a complete football nerd and have travelled across Europe watching games at various clubs and observing many different ultras groups. I could tell very early on that Torcida Verde was different from what I had usually experienced for one simple reason—the group seemed to have a large number of women, including many in senior positions within their community. I got to chat with Sofia about the Torcida Ladies, a subgroup at Sporting made up entirely of women.

“It used to be considered inappropriate for women to attend the stadium but from my mother I learned that sport was not just for boys. I started going to games and I fell in love with raising my voice and waving a flag to the sound of the drum” Sofia tells me. The Torcida Verde had decided to go against the flow of other ultras groups in Portugal at the time and welcome women into their group as a way of rebelling against the conservative society that these ultras were raised in. Eventually after a few years the women ultras in Torcida Verde started the The Torcida Ladies as a sort of sub-group within the larger group. Female only ultras groups is a rare thing in the terraces of Europe.

We spent a few hours in their clubhouse singing songs, drinking beer and chatting. The atmosphere of this group seems a lot less authoritarian than with many modern ultras groups in Europe. Anyone who wants to can start a song or pick up the drum and start banging. There does not seem to be as much of a strict top down hierarchy as exists in many other groups and it is hard to tell who is in charge, though there is older men and women present in their 50s and 60s who have been there since the founding of the group that seem to command a lot of respect from the youth. 

Beers are passed around as well as a drink that to this day I am not sure whether it is some sort of traditional Portuguese drink or just the depraved brainchild of a drunken Sporting fan on the day but it was basically sort of like a Sangria with loads of whiskey added in at the end – I think. There is a small table that operates as their official group shop in which they sell t-shirts with their group logo on it which depicts an old man resembling a Native American chief with a green and white headband. 

After a few hours of drinking and singing we leave the bar and head across the road into the stadium. The Torcida Verde begin setting up their flags and banners ahead of the night’s game against Vitoria SC.

Small green and white flags are placed on every seat whilst a huge banner is rigged up with a concoction of ropes, poles and cable ties.

“It’s not common to have women ultras in Portugal. In Sporting and all other clubs, the majority of the supporters are men which makes it hard for women to integrate and play a prominent role…sexism is often a barrier that prevents women from entering the stadium. There are countless times where I have been criticised for being a woman and belonging to the ultras environment” says Sophia. 

A few minutes before the teams come out, the ultras begin getting the crowd singing. A big, heavily tattooed and terrifying looking man faces the crowd with his megaphone, scanning the crowd and making eye contact with each and every one of us. God forbid if he catches you not singing. As the teams come out the whole stand begins waving flags as a massive banner drops from the roof. The atmosphere is electric.

“It’s more than a passion, it’s a family!”.

The game kicks off and the chanting does not stop for a second. It strikes me in the José Alvalade Stadium about the divide in the fan scene at Sporting. It is not something that I will get into here but basically there are multiple ultras groups at Sporting and they do not exactly see eye to eye. There are different ideologies and philosophies at play and a lot of inter-club politics that has caused this divide. It does seem from where I am standing that the other groups seem more tough, more serious and more masculine. The atmosphere in the ground is outstanding but also a little bit toxic – certain chants the Torcida won’t sing if the other groups are singing them and certain times when Torcida are singing the other groups are hissing and booing at them. The different groups’ attempts at one upping each other seem to be more important to them than the game taking place in front of them.

After about 30 minutes the capo at the front of the Torcida switches with another man who takes over the megaphone and takes over control of the chants. 

The show of passion in the stands for me is overshadowing any action that is happening on the field and eventually it gets to be the turn of one of the Torcida Ladies to take control of the megaphone down the front.

Seeing a woman commanding a terrace full of passionate ultras is something that is extremely uncommon in Europe and would potentially even anger many people and yet here with the Torcida Verde it is normal.

The game on the pitch was uneventful and ended with a scoreless draw. We go back to Torcidas bar and continue to chat about the role of women in football fan culture.

Sofia tells me about her experiences travelling around Europe and the world experiencing football in different cultures “it’s very easy to see pictures of ultras groups and see no women. Often there is a thought that it is dangerous for women to be around ultras because if something bad happens a woman can’t defend herself…. I did Erasmus in Europe and tried to get involved in the ultras support over there. At no point was I treated badly but I also didn’t feel like I was being integrated”. Sofia believes that there is still a long way to go for equality in football.

“For many women in the world, sport is something that is out of reach both in practice and in the role of a fan. Across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia millions of women face legal, cultural and religious barriers that prevent them from entering the stadium”.

Things are changing slowly, Iran was the last country in the world to have a ban on women entering football stadiums which ended in 2018 and the country has since seen a decent surge of women attending football games. Though the cultural barriers that Sophia mentioned still remain.

The Torcida Verde sees sexism in football as part of a wider struggle. 

“Sexist discrimination is as much a problem as racial, religious or political discrimination, I think that those who welcomed me in Torcida Verde are with me in trying to fight all these prejudices.

We go out to the front of the bar and around the side into a small sort of underpass tunnel where there is a large Torcida Verde mural on the wall. All the group members are gathered here with the backdrop of their beloved Jose Alvalade Stadium just above us. Someone lights off a flare whilst everyone begins to chant

Sporting, tu és a minha vida, Eu sem ti não sei viver…”  (Sporting you are my life I don’t know how to live without you).

Within a few seconds the whole alleyway is lit up with green flares and smoke bombs. Beers are handed out to anyone with an empty hand as a conspicuous police riot van sits at the top of the road, glaring at these supporters – or in their mind, hooligans, with disdain. Wary that anything might kick off. A typical police response to football supporters in Portugal. Though it is clear for those amongst the Torcida that there is no desire for violence here. All they want to do is drink and sing and bask in all of their shared love for Sporting.

I ask Sofia if she has any final thoughts on Sporting, Ultras and women in football. I am slightly drunk at this stage off copious amounts of Super Bock as she tells me “A woman of loyalty and passion manages to hold a large banner and wave a flag while screaming loudly AMO-TE SPORTING CLUBE DE PORTUGAL!” (I love you Sporting Clube De Portugal).


Photo credits: Torcia Verde

Ethan Rooney

Ethan is a freelance journalist from Dublin, Ireland. He is drawn to looking at the unique and under reported aspects of conflict and counter cultural movements, as well as delving into the social factors surrounding them. He believes that these aspects are significant in order to fully understand the issues. Ethan's main focus lies in global conflict and football supporters culture.