Football’s popularity is on an all-time high in the city. Nirmal Joseph Sebastian observes the phenomenon of mushrooming fan clubs and sports cafés.

First it was hockey, then after 1983 cricket took over. The fanaticism and love for the game is so high among us Indians, that it is commonly said, ‘Cricket, in India, is like a religion’. But due to the mass commercialisation and introduction of various new formats, the game seems to have lost its authenticity.

Though the fan base for cricket is still the highest, the gentleman’s game is slowly being given a run for its money by football. All the controversies and scams in cricket don’t seem to help either and most youth today can relate to Sir Bobby Charlton who said, “If football is slavery, give me a life sentence.” That is their level of passion for football; a level of passion that was earlier seen only for cricket.

Soaring interest

“Of late, especially after the controversies, even during the off-season, football transfer discussions is being followed by the youth in the city more than IPL,” says Aravind Ayyaswamy, a member of the Manchester United Football Club (MUFC)-Chennai fan club.

Though the infrastructure is not sufficient for the players of the game, stores are seeing a shift in the buying trends of the youth. Most sports stores seem to be selling more football related equipment than cricket these days.

The introduction of Manchester United’s official store, a store that exclusively caters to every need of a fan of MUFC which has opened in Phoenix Market City, Velachery, itself is evidence of the increasing interest of the Chennai youth in the game of football.

This trend is further backed by the increasing number of football tournaments that are being organised in the city. Though there is no corporate backing, tournaments like Happy Feet have really caught the eye of the footballers. Happy Feet is a charity-based football tournament which is held here in aid of various charities like World Vision and Help a Child of India at regular intervals. Happy Feet II saw participation from 60 teams and this number is only expected to keep increasing with time.

Fan-fare

Divya T., one of the organisers of Happy Feet, says, “We’re just a bunch of youngsters who saw an increasing interest in the youth of Chennai for football and thought of giving them an outlet to enjoy their passion. And when we got the novel idea of bringing together fans of the beautiful game and adding a good cause to it, the response was more than overwhelming.”

For a footballer in the city, the biggest issue is the lack of infrastructure and information. Many fans look for sports-based cafés and hope to catch a screening of a football game.

High on Caffeine in Adyar has been doing just for almost four years now. At least a 100 people turn-out for every screening and sometimes that number even goes up to 300.

Most screenings are organised by members of the Manchester United fan club (MUFC-C) and the Liverpool fan club. “Our fan club has close to 600 members and we’re always interacting and talking about football and our Club,” says Rahul Jayasurya, the admin for MUFC-Chennai. “We also use our Facebook page to organise meetings, events, and screenings. And now we are also trying to put a football team together to take on teams created by other fan clubs,” he adds.

Kirk Youth Football is an initiative that is based out of St. Andrew’s Kirk, Egmore. This is one of the most unique teams in the city as it has both adults and school children who hail from various countries like Spain, Portugal, Oman, Bhutan, Canada and South Korea in the same team.

“It is just an opportunity for us to meet up and get-together while enjoying our passion. We’re always learning from each other and the game has created a sense of brotherhood amongst us, where we don’t look at caste, creed, nationality or religion. When it comes to the football field, we are all together,” says Romit, a member of the KYF team. The team has also participated in an international football tournament in Dubai.

There are a few like Nandakumar who runs the Chennai Soccer School and Arindam Biswas who runs the Mahogany Football Club, who are ever willing to take an extra step for the game and to help train the youth.

We have the talent and the interest but no infrastructure and support to match it, be it from the Government or the corporates. With a little support and training, it will not be long before our Indian football team does well in the international arena; maybe even lift the World Cup!

Social play

There are various forums and pages on Facebook that are based on football, like the ‘Football Discussions Forum’ where there is constant interaction and discussion on various topics, that have anything to do with the beautiful game. It helps members stay up to date with all the happenings in the World of football and acts as a useful tool to increase their knowledge about the game that they love. For instance, Happy Feet Facebook page is used by the organisers to intimate fans and football teams about their charity ventures and future tournaments. This page also serves as an online registration desk where teams can register themselves for the tournament and are always notified about various details, like rules, fixtures, etc. MUFC – Chennai’s Facebook page is a platform for fans to discuss, interact and organise events and screenings. The conversations range from transfer talk to a very detailed discussion about the youth team. It’s also a forum for fans to express themselves and their passion freely. The members of this page are also trying to put a team together to participate in various tournaments in the city.

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