‘At a screening if we score a goal, no one dares to switch seats’
With the new season of the Premier League starting on August 14, we speak to passionate followers of the game, marketers and fans alike to understand how deep-rooted is the PL craze in India
With the new season of the Premier League starting on August 14, we speak to passionate followers of the game, marketers and fans alike to understand how deep-rooted is the PL craze in India.
They say cricket is a religion in India but football spells life for billions of people across the world. As per Brand Finance Research, the (English) Premier League stands out as the most-watched and supported international football league among Indian fans. If you are a social media native, you will be well aware of the thousands of Premier League Fan clubs that have mushroomed across the country over the past many years. Some of them are affiliated to the Football clubs back in England. Data even suggests that the second biggest fan base of the Manchester United club is in fact in India. We spoke to some of these die-hard football enthusiasts and have in this edition attempted to cover the Premier League mania in the North and Northeast part of the country.
While it is natural for the popular clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea etc. to have a large fan following in countries far and wide, we thought why not find out about whether there are fan bases for a relatively lesser-known club of the Premier League --- Tottenham Hotspur and were amazed to find out how Ledly King, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric were household names for the football enthusiasts here and how even an ‘underdog’ Premier League club has so many supporters in the nook and corners of India.
For a 24-year-old Emerald George Pathaw, a Cost and Management Accounting (CMA) Final year student who co-founded the Shillong Spurs fanclub, with just four members in 2004, it was always a dream to be recognized as an official supporters' group. They had to wait seven years to get that tag and today they stand tall with 70 members and are a wing of the 800-member-strong India Spurs who officially support Tottenham Hotpur in the Premier League.
Talking about the inception of the fanclub, he says, “In 2013, I saw a post on Facebook by Bangalore Spurs as they organized a screening of a game and I commented on the post saying why aren't we having such screenings in Shillong. So Wanpyn (he was part of Bangalore Spurs then but he's now part of Shillong Spurs and a co-founder) replied to my comment explaining why and after that we got in touch with Peter and Brandall (our other co-founders) and that's how we got together to form Shillong Spurs.”
Talking about what the club members do when they get together Pathaw says, “Before the lockdown, we would meet up every morning to practice together and then organize a football match against the other fan clubs of the town on the weekends. We have organized quite a few screenings as well. At each one, we would sing and chant from the heart, ‘Come on you Spurs’.” Pathaw’s favourite player is Mousa Dembele who he compares to a tank with the feet of a ballerina.
As far as their neighbouring state’s fanclub, Mizoram Spurs is concerned, it was established in 2009 and officially in the year 2012, currently they have 116 active members, many of them women with the average age of 26 years. From college students to professors to doctors to officers of the Indian Army, the profile of the members of the club is varied.
“Ours is a football-crazy state. Every child starts following football from his childhood or is exposed to it. In fact right from the 90s when we got cable television, the state got hooked on to Premier League,” the fans say. Another one of the members says that Mizoram Spurs is like David in a sea of Goliaths: “We have very few members in Mizoram Spurs compared to the other fanclubs here but we are always the loudest ones when it comes to cheering for our team.”
The club earlier met for screenings of the matches played by Tottenham Hotspur, but the pandemic forced them to move the Premier League mania online and the members today are very active on WhatsApp and social media and heated discussions over a match are very common throughout the nine months of the Premier League. They went one step further during the pandemic, the Mizoram Spurs used the opportunity to undertake donation drives for a Rehab Centre in Aizawl, Mynamar refugees and the Local Level Task Force formed by the government to fight against Covid-19, they even help cover medical costs of relatives of club members, giving a higher purpose to the fanclub.
In the national capital, however, they have a different way of showing their loyalty and affection for their favourite club. “We have a great collection of signed balls, jerseys, posters, flags, scarves and whatnot. People are kind enough to order and exchange things. But the bonds we have formed here in this club are the most special,” says Sunny Bansal talking about his friends Prateek Rawat, Akshay Tyagi, Akash Gupta, and Nishant Jha who along with 92 others form the Delhi Spurs. With software engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers, doctors etc, their club is as diverse as it can get. “We meet up through screenings on match days. Although the average attendance is somewhere between 10-15, during big games, we end up with around 100 people. But that was all before the pandemic. Since March 2020, the screenings have been limited and virtual.”
The Spurs’ fanclub started as a small stream but slowly went on to emerge as a big river of football enthusiasts across the country. One of their members says, “In the second half of 2012, I came across a small group on Facebook with barely 10-20 people named India Spurs. At first, I was in awe and then the fan in me finally found a sense of belonging. From there on, it migrated to WhatsApp; we started doing posts. The word spread and within a couple of years, we had a number of fans from various cities which allowed the cities to host their own groups and communities. Today apart from Mizoram, Shillong and Delhi, they have Pune, Chennai, Kerala, Bangalore, Mumbai, Goa, Imphal, Gujarat and Kolkata Spurs. And their Twitter handle is always buzzing and caters to all occasions from matches to special days like Independence Day etc.
So deep is their love for the team that when their Delhi fanclub received a mail from India Spurs about their favourite team playing a friendly match with Juventus in Singapore in July, 2019, the Delhi Spurs who had never been out of the country got in touch with the other members from different cities where the club is functional and collaborated to fly to Singapore to watch Tottenham Spur play live.
In another month, they also associated with Special Olympics Bharat where coaches from Tottenham Hotspur Foundation had visited to train the coaches here. The India Spurs got an opportunity to work with kids with special needs and coach them on football.
A football fan isn’t a fan without superstitions. Elaborates Bansal, “At a screening, if we score a goal, no one dares to switch seats and if we can’t score a goal or the opposition scores, we keep moving until we score one and then we settle there. It’s weird but it works, or at least that’s what we like to think. Anything to help the team win. I remember this one moment where one of us switched seats, someone got angry because it was a tense moment and then we ended up scoring. After everyone was done being ecstatic, we started chanting ‘he’s one of our own’, a chant usually associated with Harry Kane. Chants play a big part in making screenings fun. Be it banter with other supporters’ club at a joint screening or just all the mad fans vibing together, when fans get together, it is always fun.”
He adds, “You’ll find a lot of fans for United, Liverpool, or even our arch-nemesis, Arsenal. But Tottenham Hotspur fans are a rare breed. Spurs have always been a team with potential and some of the biggest names have played here. The most amazing thing that attracted us to Spurs was the style of play. Fast and free-flowing football with deadly counterattacks. To sum it all up, Love at first sight does exist.”
The pandemic may have restricted the meetings to some extent but the WhatsApp groups of the Spurs across the country have never been more active. They have refrained from hosting public screenings because safety is still a concern but are doing the next best thing to catch up with the other fanclub members and keeping the spirit of the Premier League battles alive—via video calls.
So what are the Spurs looking forward to in the upcoming season of the Premier League? Pat comes the reply: “We can’t wait to see Nuno Espirito Santo, the new club manager weaving his magic on the team. He helped Wolverhampton Wanderers finish 7th and qualify for Europe, which is no mean feat.”
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