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The Indian Fan

A bright sunny afternoon in North London, thousands making their way to Holloway after getting down at the Arsenal tube station. An assortment of School Kids, Undergrads, Government employees, corporate honchos, housewives, dressed in red and white making their way to the Emirates Stadium. On their way they cross a set of fans dressed in all white, smiles turn into smirks, tempers start flaring, veins that were never there are now visible, the two sets of football fans automatically arrange into neat rows, facing each other, mano-e-mano. With frowns on their faces, and their clubs crests in their heart minds and souls, begins a confrontation. Words are exchanged, expletives being thrown in the air, fans of Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur start the match about two hours before kickoff. No matter where their club finishes, this is one game the Spurs do not like to lose. Not just because it gives bragging rights to the Gooners, who may be their colleagues, neighbours, or in some extreme cases even immediate family members, but it hurts, and is recalled for the rest of their life as a painful indelible memory. This is a typical derby day in English Football, and with over 200 professional football clubs in the country, chances are that more than one derby encounter must be taking place somewhere every weekend. And its not just about the derbies. Fight for the top, the Champions League place, or even to escape relegation, a previous encounter ticking off the fans, or maybe even seeing the young star who used to play at your club play for your rivals who pay him about £5000 more than your club, spur on fans to take their throats to the limits. The much famed chants like ‘You will never Walk Alone’ from Liverpool FC, ‘Glory Glory Man Utd’ or the Gooners’ own ‘Its Arsenal’ act as the 12th man on the pitch for their respective teams. Ashley Cole being laughed off as Cashley at the Emirates, being greeted with jeers and a loud boo sound at his first touch of the ball at his first visit to Arsenal after signing up for Chelsea, and showered with fake £10 pound notes from the Bank of Russia, as a pun on Roman Abrahmovich, Chelsea’s new owner and shouts of ‘you do Cheryl Greedy’ could be heard quite distinctly over the live broadcast of the game in India, where about a score of people dressed in Red or Blue watched the game at a pub in Delhi. No chants, no scarfs, no fights, just the plain old applause and whistling, back seat driver like advice to the manager and amateur comments on who is playing well and who is not. Switch over to cricket, and all you hear is noise. The crowd may have grown to 100, 200 if you count the people standing outside in Natraj like poses, just to get a glimpse of the newly introduced concept of score bar at the bottom of the screen, but all they do is make noise. No chanting, No songs sung in the praise of the Indian Cricket Team, or any of its members, or even chorus clapping. The stadiums fare only a tad better. The crowd tires after doing 3 rounds of the Sachin chant, 5 at max. About 10% of the crowd is dressed in the official jersey, you do not see a sea blue conjuring up at Ferozeshah Kotla every time India plays there, or for that matter, the 90,000 strong crowd at the Eden Gardens do not chant in unison to give the Australian fielders fielding at third man, fine leg and Long on. There is no drum beating at the Wankhede Stadium or for that matter claxons at Chinnaswamy or Chidambaram, no Mexican wave at the Barabati, no 100’x100’ Indian flags at the Green Park. The power of passion that is in Indian Cricket fans fails to translate as a collective sound to make the opposition players nervous. I cannot recall one instance when the crowd at an Indian Cricket stadium collectively booed or jeered at an opposition player. Despite Ricky Ponting being a publically hated figure in India, even he was given a miss when it came to being booed. You see fans showing their passion all over the world. Be it the Americans with their customized version of most sports, the Australians with their mocking styled cheering, the South Americans and the Italians with their flares, the Spanish and the Portuguese with their giant flags do more than just play with a player’s psyche. The Dutch know only one colour to where to sports stadiums-Orange, even the classiest of Brits when it comes to supporting the English National football or Rugby team. It makes a difference. The players being supported feel good about themselves, bringing out the best in them, their passion for the game shows, and they get a high, whereas the opposition who bears the brunt of the fans, plays much below par, and there are bouts with nervousness, fear of failure, being taunted and anxiety. This is not just limited to football or basketball. Even cricket fans abroad are used to such things. The famed Barmy Army of England sing for their team with a beer in their hand, dress up as Sylvester, Pink Panther, Snagglepuss on the third day of a Lord’s Test and have fun, they even travel abroad together to watch a test match. The Australian crowd knows how to get to an opposition player. I remember when the Sydney crowd getting the best of Ishant Sharma. The tall speedster who was just getting used to play for India at the test level, was at the receiving end of the jeering of the New South Wales bred crowd. The anxious bowler had ran thrice till the popping crease without delivering the ball, had to return and restart his run-up. And what happen when an opposition bowler is making his debut in India? Nothing, he enjoys the learning experience and probably returns home with the story of Sachin Tendulkar being his first ever scalp! India first of all does not have a pub culture, that is where fan clubs foster. Viewers collected in Cardiff in a pub to watch a live darts game would probably make more of a difference than an Indian Crowd at Andheri or Salt Lake. There needs to be a culture of fan clubs in India. A small a thing as Arsenal FC has over 100 clubs registered with it from across the globe. Imagine such a thing happening for the Indian cricket team from within India, there would be more than double that amount. Fans meeting up every Sunday, at a Coffee Shop to discuss the progress of the Indian Cricket Team, and coming up with chants for the upcoming match in their town. Secondly there are not enough people seen wearing the Indian jersey. There would me more people vouching for an EPL team in India, or having the jersey of an IPL team, but when it comes to the Indian national cricket team, they are not there, even after being changed from the weird sky blue colour to a much hotter shade of blue. People are mocked on the streets for wearing it, I fail to understand why. I do not in anyway wish that Indian fans turn into hooliganism ala the South American or Turkish Football fans, or recreate the racism incidents seen at Mumbai a few years back. This is just a call to the Indian fans, an announcement, we have the passion, we have the power, now we can live the dream, the dream we all had at one point of time, of playing for the Indian Cricket team. We can do it now, as its 12th member and making a difference.

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