‘I got my pre-wedding shoot done wearing a Liverpool jersey’
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 deeprooted the PL craze is 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 deeprooted the PL craze is in India.
The Premier League is undoubtedly one of the world’s longest sporting leagues, which takes place between August and May with the teams playing each other across the season for a total of 380 matches. This League is a cultural phenomenon that has spread far and wide in India over time, and the country has a fast-growing football fan following, some of them have gone to extreme lengths to support their favourite clubs. In turn, from Manchester City to Liverpool to Chelsea, these clubs are going all out to keep their fans in India engaged.
One such Indian, Bhushan Zore is a Liverpool fan through and through. Exemplifying his die-hard devotion to the team, he tells us that he even got his pre-wedding shoot done while he was in a Liverpool jersey! His partner was, understandably, not happy. About the incident, he says, “It was quite a task convincing my partner to allow me to do it!” In line with such passion, his football fan club is called ‘Liverpool Mumbai Supporters Club’. Formed in 2008, the fan club has been going strong for almost 14 years. Zore says, “I made the decision to start the club when I discovered that there were others who were also up all night watching games and going gaga right from the pre-match rituals till the match was over, like me.”
Since its formation more than a decade ago, the LMSC has gained a strong following. Delving into details, he says, “Across India, we have around one lakh supporters in the average age group of around 25 years. Out of this 4.1 thousand are from Mumbai alone, the rest are from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, West Bengal and even the North-East.” Most of these supporters are students but they also include working professionals from all walks of life, right from advertising agencies to coaches, sales, marketing etc. Talking about the formation of the fan club which he considers a stroke of destiny, Zore says, “There was a meet held for the first time in Shivaji park with eight to ten fans turning up once for a Sunday morning game. “I was lucky to be amongst them. Post that, we continued to have tournaments with other clubs to increase the number of followers. We also had screenings for the top four Liverpool games and some more fan matches. We used to sing pre-match anthems and the in-game songs of various players and had special finals screenings every season. People turned up in volumes for them and we even took to the street when we won!”
For the 28-year-old Akshay Dutia, a Chartered Accountant, ‘the Blue Brothers’ bring out the loyalty in him. He is an avid supporter of, as he put it, ‘Chelsea FC the pride of London!’ Their fan club is called Bayside Blues - Chelsea Mumbai which was started a few years ago and is now officially recognised by Chelsea FC. The idea behind the club comes from simple but powerful origins. Dutia says it began by “Just watching a few games in a local pub. We knew that this is the closest we could be to the stadium atmosphere of chanting and backing the team. No one else would understand the commitment towards the team, not even other fan clubs. We are a huge family of blue brothers now!” While they’re based in Mumbai, their ‘family’ has a widespread following- including in Bangalore, Delhi and even in the United Kingdom. These supporters are as young as 16 and as old as 40 years, and amongst them are students, doctors, lawyers etc.
As an association, they try to watch at least 10-15 games in screenings throughout the year. Other than that, they meet every Sunday for a ‘footy session’ either on the beach or the turf. Dutia said, “It has become a ritual in the past three years.” They also meet at a local bar for some pre-match drinking. About these meetings, he says, “Here is where most of our chants are curated, along with a customary Ganpati Bappa Morya before the game.”
Aditya Tendulkar, a 29-year-old market research analyst, on the other hand, is a die-hard Tottenham Hotspur fan from Mumbai, part of the Mumbai Spurs with branches in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, North East, Gujarat and several more cities. They have been an official supporters' club for two seasons but have been around since 2012. About their average supporter, Tendulkar says, “The average age would be around 23-24. We have a very good mix of lifelong fans who have been around since the 90s and newer members too, who are students, working professionals and businessmen” Describing their rituals, he says, “Pre-match, we have a bingo where we choose a time when our beloved, Erik Lamela, would get a yellow card, along with the usual scorecard predictions.”
About his love for the team, he said, “Tottenham Hotspur stands out for me as a club that truly epitomises ‘home’. From the moment I laid eyes on the club on the pitch, I knew that I was going to be crazy about them” The association is a determined one. Mumbai Spurs are known to be among the most vocal groups in Mumbai. “In a game between Spurs and Wolves where Jan Vertonghen scored the last-minute winner, there was an eruption like none before. There was insane chanting while fist bumps were being thrown around.” Tendulkar tells us, “Last season, we sent a Mumbai Spurs flag to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it's still easily visible! We had our names printed on the flag to show off our support that even if the fans can't physically be there, we'll always be backing our club no matter where we are.”
When passions run high, so do tempers and it is safe to say that like all clubs the ‘Liverpool Mumbai Supporters Club’ has a fair share of rivalry stories. When asked if they had any such incidents, Zore says, “Oh yes! It goes without saying that Manchester United fans have always been the biggest pricks of all time. So during any Manchester United vs. Liverpool screening, there used to be crazy banters and fights. Of course, there were also glorious celebrations wherein we would light up the streets red with red smokes and fireworks."
Speaking of the other events they organized, Zore says, “We used to have inter-Fanclub matches. We had a league where Arsenal Football, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool supporters’ clubs had a tournament. After that, ex-Liverpool legends, Robbie Fowler, Luis Garcia had come down to Bandra, Bombay for a charity event organized by the Premier League in association with Standard Chartered. We were chosen to play that charity match and also volunteer.”
Abhinn Shreshtha, an advertising professional who is also part of the Liverpool fan club in Mumbai says, "There was a Premier League screening in Andheri after we became an official supporters’ club. Liverpool organised this screening with the football legend Robbie Fowler. Got a chance to watch a match with the God himself. He was very down to earth and kept us laughing with his jokes and anecdotes. I told him this was actually the second time I had met him and he said, "I am lucky, I guess".
While for Dutia, one of the highlights of the course of his devotion to football was the Premier League live screening at Khar Gymkhana ground, which was organised by Star Sports. He described it saying, “It was a great event where Chelsea beat Arsenal and all of us went crazy celebrating by splashing beer on each other and chanting our hearts out, celebrating the win.
The one thing they share is that they are full of hope for the upcoming season of the Premier League. Zore, about his expectations, says, “The team is in a great shape, we have our centre backs returning post-injury and the squad is solid and tight in all positions.” Tendulkar is excited about a new manager who comes to a new chapter. “I'm going to back Nuno with everything I have and more! I'm most excited about the home NLD, it's important to show your noisy neighbours that they were never from North London and should've remained South of the river because North London is ours,” he says. Dutia had a similar, excited opinion- “The competition in the next season is going to be immense, with all teams strengthening squads. I am looking forward to Chelsea vs United and Chelsea vs Liverpool the most.”
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