I noticed that the demi-official USA national (soccer) team supporter's group has a name for the folks who lead their section of the stands in chants/cheers; a word I'd never seen used for that before: "Capo".

I'm curious if this is just something they came up with on their own, or is this an actual common use for this word?

The proper English word for this role probably really ought to be "Cheerleader". However, while that's probably what cheerleaders did in the 1920's, these days cheerleaders are essentially glorified dance/gymnastic troupes. So I suppose I can see where a new word for the actual act of leading the fans in cheers would be required. Is this that word, or just American Outlaws' attempt at it?

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    Background note for Americans: European Soccer fans typically chant and sing in a coordinated manner by the thousands the whole game through. Obviously somebody has to coordinate this. So the question is bascially about what the English name for that person is.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:09
  • Wow, I didn't know soccer/football had chant leaders. Do we also have those in Europe? I have never heard of this phenomenon (I'm Dutch). Note also that the most common chant sung by Ajax fans, the main Amsterdam football club, is "Jews! Jews!", because Amsterdam is stereotypically a Jewish city. The Rotterdam fans often chant back "Jews to the gas!" as a jocular reply, which is somewhat controversial...football fans are generally rowdy folks here, especially the hard core. But I'm not sure they have a leader specifically coördinating such chants... Incidentally, Kapos led concentration camps. Aug 30, 2013 at 16:33
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapo_(concentration_camp) I don't know what the history of the American term capo is. I don't think they ever use capo or Kapo in Dutch football. I only know the actual team has a captain. Aug 30, 2013 at 16:36
  • @Cerberus - EPL Hotspurs fans call themselves "Yids", due to similar historical circumstances.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 30, 2013 at 17:50
  • Oh, funny! Funny that they have that in England too. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


Capo is an Italian word which first and foremost means head as in the anatomical part of your body. Consequently; a director, manager, president, chief, or even the boss of a company can all be called "capo".

From the AO US Soccer supporters' website:

What would a Capo be expected to do?:

Direct the entire crowd into unified support of the team.

A strong capo may sacrifice for the good of the crowd, but can stay motivated, loud, and passionate for 90 + minutes. They can hold the respect of the crowd to lead the section for the whole game and for every game.

However, when talking about the head or leader of a sports team, a (military) squad or a group of workers, caposquadra is the most commonly used word. I suspect it is this expression, more than "capo" itself which has been loaned to the soccer team supporters' group.

After doing a little Italian research, I can confirm that "capo" is indeed the Italian football supporter responsible for co-ordinating the chants, football songs, and cheers of encouragement. He is recognized as the leader of the Ultras (Italian here); "armed" with a loud-hailer the capo is assisted by several colleagues to help sustain the level of support.

  • Perhaps kind of OT, but what is the word for the football er...cheer leader... in Italian?
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:55
  • tifo da stadio they don't have cheerleaders in Italian football stadiums, football is a serious game! Although you might see a few "exhibitions" in basketball or volleyball matches.it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tifo_sportivo and its English page
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:59
  • Right. That's why I put the space in there. I'm talking about the folks who lead and coordinate the chants (generally self-appointed fans, in my experience. Typically overweight guys with good lungs), not professional tumblers.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 28, 2013 at 23:06
  • @T.E.D. as you correctly pointed out, football cheerleaders do not really exist in Europe. In italy the person responsible for co-ordinating the chants, and football songs is indeed "capo" and he is seen as the leader of the "Ultras". The most fanatical and loyal football fans.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 28, 2013 at 23:20
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    Wow. I've heard Ultras used here as well. That one may not originate in Italian, but the fact that its used for the same thing in both countries tells me capo was not an AO invention. This earns an upvote from me at least.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 29, 2013 at 0:54

Capo is a position in the Mafia - not the Boss or his deputy, but the head of a branch: see Wikipedia's article for Caporegime.

Here is seems to be being used for the head of a section.

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    Capo (from the Latin caput, "head") is an Italian word with a long history beside its Mafia connotation, e.g. the musical instruction da capo al fine meaning "go back to the beginning and play to the end". However, the unofficial supporters call themselves the "American Outlaws", so I strongly suspect that the Mafia association was intentional...
    – MT_Head
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:04
  • Was aware of that. My theories there are either: 1) The word has some deeper meaning in Italian (as @MT_Head is saying) and is also used there to desginate "under-boss" type people leading football fan sections, and was borrowed into English for the same purpose, or 2) It just sounded more manly than "cheerleader". :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:04

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