Are Indian Football Fans Too Snobbish?

A few months before the 1990 world cup, Mohun Bagan legend and ex India international Prasun Banerjee published a book on football. Titled “Football Ghorana, Biplab o Bibortan” (The revolution and Evolution of Football Styles), it did a country wise coverage of the evolution of football. Beautifully written and wonderfully researched, the book was easily one of the best books written in Bengali on football. In his book, Banerjee made a few predictions, one of them was Japan qualifying for the 1998 world cup. Keeping in mind the fact that Japan had just started a professional league at that time, his prediction was brilliant.

In one part, he complained that Indian football fans have become too snobbish, thanks to the telecast of world cups. He lamented the fact that Inter-School tournaments like Haradhan Shield no longer attracted fans. Instead, the fans preferred watching a Maradona or a Van Basten on TV. He expected it to get worse.

It actually did.

With the explosion of cable TV in India in the mid-90s, Indian football fans were introduced to leagues in Spain, Germany, Italy and England. The telecast of Champions’ League football began full-fledged in the 1998-99′ season. People, who were never interested in football, suddenly became aware of the magnetic attraction of a Barcelona or a Manchester United. Allegiances were quickly forged. It gave rise to a whole new generation of football lovers in the 2000s, unsurprisingly the team that won a treble in 98-99′ garnered a large fan base – Manchester United. Thanks to the incessant telecast of the English Premier League, the new “EPL” generation sacrificed hours of sleep to watch their favourite teams play.

June 28, 2010 - Calcutta, India - epa02228558 Indian fans of Brazil team perform a dance on the day of Brazil facing Chile during the FIFA World cup in Calcutta, eastern India, 28 June 2010. Calcutta, popularly known as the Mecca of Indian Football, is a major centre of football activity in India and home of top national football clubs such as Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting Club and East Bengal.
This is not a scene from Rio, but it is a street in north Kolkata

It’s quite fine if fans do open up to the diverse world of European football, the problem lies in the fact that most of these new generation fans don’t care about Indian football, at all. You can come across people who know who is the all-time top-scorer in EPL or La Liga, but don’t know who top scored in previous season’s  i-League. There are fans whose biggest wish in life is to watch a game in Anfield or San Siro, but they blissfully ignore the game that is being played in a Cooperage stadium in their backyard.

Indian football does have a lot of problems, but this is unarguably one of the biggest. The ignorance of Indian football fan base is a problem that cannot be solved easily. In India, you will find fans of all big European teams, there are chances of people supporting the likes of Newcastle United or maybe even Bolton Wanderers, yet local games go unattended.

Mahindra United, one of the richest football clubs in India rolled off their football project a few months ago. One of reasons behind this decision was the poor attendance for their matches. Consider the fact that they played in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and one of the most densely populated cities. Football fans for local teams are concentrated in only few zones, namely Kerala, Goa, West Bengal, Punjab and Sikkim.

However, Kolkata derbies can still garner a 100,000 strong crowd. Local league matches for the big-3 teams usually attract a sizeable crowd. This in turn creates a huge void for other clubs. Teams like Tollygunge Agragami or Chirag United have had some patches of success in recent times, but they have struggled to build up a fan base, as the populace is already divided between the bigger clubs. Tollygunge declined into oblivion due to a visible lack of support.

In Kerala, teams attract good crowds, however, despite producing a legion of quality players over the years, club football in Kerala has never flourished. FC Cochin tried hard to become a professional club, but became defunct. Viva Kerala looks like going the same way. A financially well tuned club can tap into the enthusiastic fan base, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Goa is fast turning into the capital of Indian football. Most Goan clubs attract decent crowds. Goa’s biggest advantage is the non-partisan nature of fans. Salgoacar fans can go and cheer for Churchill Brothers, something that never happens in Kolkata.

What is the possible reason behind the lack of support? One commonly cited reason is the lack of quality in Indian football. To an extent it is true. But then again this further highlights the snobbish nature of the Indian fans.

Vasco vs Sporting Club de Goa, i-League match, very few spectators.

Consider the  example of Accrington Stanley – a very modest club in a small English town. They have never won a major trophy in their 44 year old history. They have a 2000 seater home stadium. Last season in League Two, they finished 15th and were generally poor. Yet, their home games attracted an average of 1000 people. That’s 50% of the total capacity. Do you think the fans went to the stadium to watch their team lift a trophy? Hardly, they went because they wanted to be a part of the community, because they wanted to cheer their team irrespective of how they play.

This is a sharp contrast to the case of Mahindra United. Mahinda United were one of India’s strongest teams and had been crowned national champions’ just a few years ago. They won a flurry of trophies in recent times and boasted of a stellar line-up. They also played a very attractive brand of football. Yet they never attracted the same percentage of crowd as Accrington did.

There’s no reason that an Accrington fan doesn’t get to watch EPL. But despite that, he will go to watch his local team. However, an Indian fan will gloat all over his EPL teams but won’t go to watch a Mahindra game. We complain about India not making to major International tournaments, but how many times do we go to a qualifier game India plays ? Do we go to our stadiums to create an intimidating atmosphere when our country is playing somebody ? Sadly, crowd advantage for a home game for the national team is often absent.

The other reason is, there aren’t local teams to support always. Though it is a valid reason, but that shouldn’t stop someone supporting clubs from other parts of India. “If you are born in Bangalore, it shouldn’t stop you from supporting Mohun Bagan or JCT“. If fans can feel connected with a club in Manchester or Madrid, then there’s no reason he won’t feel that for a club in Kolkata or Goa.

Indian football clubs lacked organized fan clubs in the past. However, with advent of fan clubs like Sabuj Maroon Swapno, Mariners on the Move (for Bagan) or East Bengal – The Real Power, it is easier to identify one with a fan base. It’s high time that football watching public in India woke up to the game that is played on their doorstep. You can wear an Arsenal jersey, but it won’t hurt to sport Dempo colours once in a while. It’s saddening to note that names of Indian football players/clubs are often used for mocking in social networking sites. “Manchester City will buy Baichung Bhutia next” or “X club played so poorly that even Mohun Bagan can beat them”, people should stop doing this.

You might never have a chance to watch a match in Old Trafford in your life, but watching a match in Yuva Bharati Krirangan is quite possible. The atmosphere during an East Bengal – Mohun Bagan derby is as good as it gets in any other derby match around the world. It is an experience of a lifetime. Appreciating Indian football will only broaden the horizon of a football fan. Indian football fans have no right to point fingers at mismanagement as long as they don’t bother to follow local teams.

79 Responses to “Are Indian Football Fans Too Snobbish?”

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  1. Dinar says:

    Sad But True :-(

    but still if quality of football on display isn’t good enough then people generally don’t bother to watch here. Plus matches are generally at odd times, not suitable for college going guys, poor state of pitches could also be a major factor as European football is pleasing to the eyes so… :-(

    In Goa, those who follow village level football generally are from mid 30s & above & also few local youngsters. And crowd is pretty decent for these matches.

    Hopefully, marketing also improves of Indian football along with other favorable conditions :-)

  2. BLueFan says:

    Well 1st of all…awesome article by Somnath….agree with every single word written above….well i really havn`t followed Indian club football that much…may be coz i didn`t grew up watching a club from my place…yeaahhh being a Bong was always interested in the derbies but still…there have been many players from the N.E…but sad that except Lajong there hasn`t been that much clubs with ‘big name’…sad but true…the quality is still not there …i don`t blame the Football federation for this…may be something needs to be changed at the grass root level.
    Hoping for the best….in the years to come…& seeing more of Baichung, Gaurmangi Singh, Sunil Chettri….& rest…..we can surely improve….

  3. BLueFan says:

    one thing more…this part : “It’s saddening to note that names of Indian football players/clubs are often used for mocking in social networking sites. “Manchester City will buy Baichung Bhutia next” or “X club played so poorly that even Mohun Bagan can beat them”, people should stop doing this.”
    is straight out of my heart….i have always felt the same…when people compare our players in such a context..indeed shameful act.

  4. peter storey says:

    First things first. Get your arse out of your head. Get off facebook and your life on the internet. Get out of the pubs and clubs and see past the rash of middle class/upper middle class youth professing their love for clubs that are in cities and nations alien to them.

    Ok, so maybe that’s a lot of first things.

    Examining the social causes for the lack of interest in the game in India in the space of a couple of paragraphs is utter buffoonery and the sort of tripe which makes it to the pages of a forum but not a respected football website. The major reason for the lack of support for football and local eams(to put in extremely simplistic terms) is the absence of any sort of support by the masses. Like it or not, they’d rather spend their evenings shouting bokachoda and throwing bottles on the pitch at Eden gardens these days than going to Salt Lake to watch a game.

    One point, I think it’s easy to see you’ve never gone for an India game in your life. The Ambedkar was packed to the rafters. 20000 fans in a stadium for 17000.

    Go read before you write sometimes. and then read what you write. And edit heavily. I hope that helps.

    And preferably, practice what you preach when you get time off Facebook.

  5. Vikas says:

    First of all, good write-up….And it is also a sad truth which we have to accept.
    But let’s be honest. People always love to watch skillful players. I am not implying that our Indian players are not skillful or they can’t entertain us. But it’s just that they are not good enough when you compare them to the European guys (isn’t it obvious because of the training they get in big European clubs?).
    But as an Indian football fan, i always make sure i watch the National team games whenever they are telecast on TV purely out of passion and love for my country. And i am sure many of my fellow Indian football fans do that too. But asking everyone to watch an i-League game week-in week-out is maybe, a little too early. We have to probably wait for a decade more and hope that Indian football starts to take the right path..:)

  6. Subhasish says:

    No intention to offend, but I think the author does not have any first hand experience of watching India’s football matches from the stadium.

    I did watch a couple of India’s WC qualifying matches in Fatorda Stadium, Goa and the attendence was quite positive. While the match against Singapore in 2006 WC Qualification that India won by 1-0 scoreline attracted around 30k people, the 2010 WC qualifying match against Lebanon in the same stadium had 10k supporters rooting for the home team. Even the Nehru Gold Cup matches at Ambedkar attracts almost capacity crowd for every India match.

    Because of the nature of my job as a wild-life conservator, I had to travel to remote parts of the country during the last two decades. And you would be surprised to know the kind of support football gets among North-East tribal folks, villagers, Tea-estate labourers and people in sub-urban areas of Orrissa, UP and MP. A local match between two village sides attracts on an average 10k passionate crowd! So a lack of support can not be leived as a reason for this sad state of football in the country.

    Administration, Infrastructure and advertisement are the 3 things that Indian football needs most at this moment and not fan support. Supporters were there and will be there but the prime responsibility of AIFF/GOI is to sort out these points before we place the blame on supporters.

  7. Kripky says:

    To be honest, it is a Catch 22 Situation. How does one get support? If you are good enough, you get support. Now, ‘the good enough’ part will be either through ‘excessive training/tremendous hard work’ or ‘god-given talent’. If Indians don’t have the talent, then they need to pull in extra hours on the pitch and increase their stamina. Stamina building is necessary. It is the reason why we play big names in Asia (forget Europe) and lose badly, especially turning off in the second half after exhausting oneself. If the Indian footballers can stand up and say they have done all the hard work and have the right stamina to play the big names and we still don’t see support for them, then it is a problem. A big one. But, I don’t think that’s the case.
    Talking of facilities, yes, things are happening, we’ll soon have 4 Astro-turfs in the country including Salt Lake’s already operational one. I don’t think facilities are really an excuse, most of the African countries don’t have it, yet they can thrash the life out of ours if we play them.
    We still have a lot of work to do to compete at the highest level. Support will come, that’s not an issue, “if you are good enough, we’ll support you”!

    If I choose to watch an Arsenal – Spurs match instead of a Mohun Bagan – Dempo match, it doesn’t mean I don’t care or support Indian football, it means I prefer ‘quality football’.

  8. Somnath Sengupta says:

    Just to clarify, I am not just talking about matches for India National Team. I am talking about club football matches too.

    The recently concluded Santosh Trophy was marred by empty stands, except for the Bengal games & a few other matches.

  9. vikas says:

    The problem lies with the management..i may not have the greatest of ideas of what’s going on in the administrative levels..but from the outside, it is very clear that AIFF is not trying hard enough..take for ex. formula was nowhere in terms of popularity in India in early 90s..but it started picking up in the late 90s and look where we are now..building our own circuit..the same goes with tennis..apart from Vijay Amritraj, we didn’t have a recognizable name in the world of we have his kids, and a lot of other youngsters working their hard to announce themselves on the country level…these are not just miracles that have happened..these people have worked hard for their game..and it’s high timeAIFF start doing the same by investing in infrastructure which includes training facilities, stadium management, etc, etc..then we can see more and more people flooding the stadiums dying to watch Indian club games..

  10. sounak says:

    @vikas: the examples that u gave:
    (1) Tennis – Leander, Mahesh, Sania – These 3 have been major reasons for the tennis craze in India
    (2) F1 – Mallya himself, Karthikeyan, Chandak, Force India – They have been majore reasons for the awareness. football….to some extent Bhaichung and now Chhetri has shown the door, lets hope for the best!

  11. ash says:

    A true football fan will enjoy a match of any quality,don’t know whats wrong with Indians.

    I love Indian football and I can assure you that I’m one of the biggest fans of Indian Football.I used to watch EPL earlier but now I don’t even find any connection or reason to watch it.LoL who cares if someone 10000 miles is winning a trophy,I would rather watch a Desi Derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan or even a match between Air India and Vasco.


  12. Nikhil says:

    Sad but true. But there are academies like Tata Football Academy (TFA) who are doing a great job to revive Indian football. Just that we need 1000 more TFA’s. Recently we did an interview with the TFA head and coach discussing their tie-up with Sheffield United and also on the future on Indian football in general.

    Have a read if interested:

  13. sounak says:

    There’s a Mohun Bagan academy (SAIL) in my home-town too, I hear abt their selections and all, my friend went for trials. I still dont have a good picture of it, I thnk whn I go home ths time, will find more abt it.

  14. Nikhil says:

    @sounak: whenever you do visit, feel free to send us your pics and experience to us (site link in my name) ..we plan to uncover such hidden gems across the country. And bring out the positives, whatever little there might be of Indian football.

  15. Nipun says:

    i think its a fabulous piece of work, one of the best i have read in a while. Keep up the work man :)

  16. Sujit says:

    Nice artical mate, keep up the good work. 😀
    Hope this is read by every footie fanatic in the country and I see some good amount of crowd in the next edition of the I-League when i go for the matches.

  17. Propecia says:

    Just wanted to comment and say that I really like your blog layout and the way you write too. It’s very refreshing to see a blogger like you.. keep it up