With the group stages of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League coming to a conclusion this week, it's a good chance to acknowledge all of the fans who help make those big European nights so special.
Home supporters at many clubs across the continent have made it a grand prematch tradition to stoke up the atmosphere inside the stadium with a variety of huge visual displays involving large banners, choreographed actions or pyrotechnics -- known as "tifos" -- before kickoff. Somehow, poor Manchester United have been the target of some of the best we have seen so far.
A few clubs have even made it their business to put on an extravaganza before each game, with FC Copenhagen of Denmark lighting up the Champions League group stage with a series of impressive displays.
Fans of Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan have even staged their own battle of the banners, with one club directly responding to the other via the medium of tifos -- which must surely be a first in UEFA competition.
Here's a look at some of the very best displays to have taken place during the groups stages of European competitions this season.
Let's just hope that the ultras -- groups of some of the most passionate and engaged supporters -- of Europe's elite clubs use the winter hiatus to come up with some more spectacular ideas for when the knockout phases begin in the spring.
Copenhagen are Europe's tifo kings
FC Copenhagen have emerged as the unlikely leaders of the tifo scene during their Champions League campaign, with fans of the Danish side laying on a selection of impressively choreographed performances before their home fixtures.
Copenhagen vs. Rakow Czestochowa: Champions League playoff (Aug. 30)
Copenhagen kicked things off with a simple but undeniably effective display against Polish opponents Rakow Czestochowa. Before the match, fans held their shirts aloft in unison to create a huge monolithic white wall at Parken stadium.
Copenhagen vs. Bayern Munich: Champions League (Oct. 3)
Copenhagen came thundering into the group stage with a full-on tifo deployed for their first home game against Bayern Munich. The large, grandstand-wide display featured a roaring lion with glowing red eyes and smouldering nostrils, with representatives of Bayern depicted fleeing in terror.
Copenhagen vs. Manchester United: Champions League (Nov. 8)
Next up to visit were Manchester United who, in a play on the nickname for their own home of Old Trafford, were welcomed to the "Theatre of Nightmares." The tifo showed United's red devil mascot dreaming of a defeat in Denmark as fearsome pyrotechnics were unleashed above. Sure enough, the Premier League giants fell to a shock 4-3 defeat.
Tifos are devised and created by the most fervent elements of a club's fan base, so it's no surprise they are often used to celebrate their own contribution to their team or intimidate the visiting supporters as well as the opposition on the pitch.
The Lens ultras paid tribute to themselves by creating a giant scarf (complete with hands holding it up) that stretched across the width of an entire stand at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. AC Milan: Champions League (Oct. 25)
PSG ultras unveiled a giant tifo facing the travelling Milanese contingent that featured an image of French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo in his signature movie role as a secret agent in "Le Professionnel," taking aim at a giant red-and-black devil stood at the far end of the stadium.
AC Milan vs. Paris Saint-Germain: Champions League (Nov. 7)
Milan then responded a fortnight later in the return fixture at San Siro by erecting a massive effigy of Neo from the Matrix franchise stopping Belmondo's bullets in mid-air.
Marseille vs. AEK Athens: Europa League (Oct. 26)
An unusual feeling of camaraderie was in the air at the Stade Velodrome as Marseille's hardcore fans extended a hand of friendship to their Greek counterparts via a tifo that showed both sets of ultras linking together in a friendly embrace.
AC Milan vs. Borussia Dortmund: Champions League (Nov. 28)
The ultras stationed on Milan's Curva Sud formally introduced themselves to their German guests when Dortmund arrived at San Siro in late November.
Galatasaray vs. Manchester United: Champions League (Nov. 29)
With Manchester United in town, Galatasaray revisited a classic by decorating the Ali Sami Yen Stadium with a huge lion, the European Cup and the infamous motto "Welcome to Hell" -- a reference to a sign held aloft in the crowd when United played Gala at the same ground in 1993 amid an extremely hostile atmosphere. On that occasion, the Turkish club secured a 0-0 draw to eliminate United from Europe. This time, they twice came from behind to seal a thrilling 3-3 draw that may well help United suffer the same fate.
Toulouse vs. Union St.-Gilloise: Europa League (Nov. 30)
Pyro time was ushered in at the Toulouse Stadium by the ultras' skeletal cheerleader, who first ordered the waving of purple flags before signalling the start of a mass flare display along the terraces.
HJK Helsinki vs. Aberdeen: Europa Conference League (Nov. 30)
The hardy souls who support HJK braved the subzero temperatures in Helsinki to unfurl an enormous tifo featuring a selection of their club legends, all roaring on the present-day team with a megaphone.
The travelling Aberdeen fans made their presence felt, however. The match was briefly stopped early in the second half as they were throwing snowballs onto the pitch, and shortly afterward the Dons scored the equaliser to seal a 2-2 draw.
HJK Helsinki-Aberdeen briefly stopped because some Aberdeen fans behind the goal are throwing snowballs at the HJK goalkeeper.— Archie Rhind-Tutt (@archiert1) November 30, 2023
Man over the tannoy says it could be abandoned if it continues! pic.twitter.com/obwqBZ23vd
Some fans have used the big stage to air their grievances and stage protests against the powers that be, rival players and even their own clubs.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Newcastle United: Champions League (Nov. 7)
Dortmund led the charge with a protest against UEFA and the ongoing commercialisation of the game by throwing fake cash and fake bags of gold onto the pitch ahead of their group match against Newcastle.
AC Milan vs. Paris Saint-Germain: Champions League (Nov. 7)
Milan fans followed a similar theme and had thousands of fake bank notes printed up featuring the face of Gianluigi Donnarumma, insinuating that financial interest may have had something to do with their former goalkeeper's decision to sign for PSG in the summer of 2021.
Bayern Munich vs Galatasaray: Champions League (Nov. 8)
Bayern ultras voiced their dissent toward their own club's hierarchy by unfurling a large replica of a classic red jersey in protest of this season's controversial white home kit. The accompanying message read: "the club colours are sacred." There was also a large banner criticising UEFA, but the language used on it was NSFW.
Keeping it classy
Not all fans decided to stoop to jibes, goads and intimidation during the group stage. Indeed, some chose to keep it above the belt when it came to their tifos.
Feyenoord vs. Celtic: Champions League (Sept. 19)
Feyenoord acknowledged the special part that Celtic played in one of their greatest-ever nights: the 1970 European Cup final. The Dutch club won 2-1 in Milan but the prematch partying of their supporters left a strong impression on the Celtic fans, one of whom later said: "They were so colourful ... it was the best support I'd ever seen."
AC Milan vs. Newcastle United: Champions League (Sept. 19)
Milan used all four sides and nearly each and every one of the San Siro's 75,000 seats to create a rapturous reception for their side before the group game against Newcastle -- the first competitive meeting between the two clubs.
Newcastle United vs. Paris Saint-Germain: Champions League (Oct. 4)
Having acquired a taste for tifos in Milan, Newcastle put on a show of their own when 2020 finalists PSG arrived at St James' Park. A large banner depicting a magpie in a top hat was unfurled for the occasion, with the bird proudly displaying Newcastle's name in the Champions League draw.
As winter drew in, temperatures dipped and flurries of snow began to flit across the night sky in Switzerland, Young Boys of Bern had their players huddle for warmth as part of the prematch tifo.
Newcastle United vs. Borussia Dortmund: Champions League (Oct. 25)
Newcastle went all-out ahead of their second group game against Dortmund when the whole of the stadium was decked out in black and white. A giant salute of "Howay the Lads" also appeared in the Leazes End.
Toulouse vs. Liverpool: Europa League (Nov. 9)
Toulouse fans unfurled a wholesome tribute to beloved French comedy character Jean-Claude Dusse, who once famously said: "Forget you have no chance and go for it!" Les Violets then pulled off a shock 3-2 victory over Liverpool, who had beaten them 5-1 at Anfield just two weeks previously.
😅 "Sur un malentendu... ça peut marcher !"— RMC Sport (@RMCsport) November 9, 2023
🟣👏 Et ça l'a fait pour Toulouse, auteur d'un exploit majuscule contre Liverpool (3-2). Bravo aux supporters toulousains, des génies. pic.twitter.com/5GolvQ71tW
Stade Rennais vs. Panathinaikos: Europa League (Nov. 9)
Having reached either the Champions League, Europa League or Conference League for the past six seasons, the Rennes fans heralded their ongoing European adventures with a tifo that included a large map of the continent and an image of supporters clutching their passports.