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PLAYING BALL Man U, Arsenal or Liverpool?

PLAYING BALL Man U, Arsenal or Liverpool?  

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While on the one hand we are celebrating our freedom from the imperialistic yoke, we also have a dedicated fan following for the English Premier League… a look at this dichotomy

You can see them everywhere you go on match days, dressed in red or blue jerseys, cheering loudly for their favourite team and booing players from other sides. Every year from mid-August to May, sports fans in urban India turn into diehard fans of the English Premier League. They discuss strategy that the club teams could employ to win the league and use ‘we’ to describe a club and players that most have seen only on telly.

There are fan clubs dedicated to teams of the English Premier League. Speciality stores selling club merchandise rake in the money. As the transfer window closes, these fans make a beeline for websites, adding to speculation about the best teams for the title this year. What makes some of us passionately follow a sport where India does not figure in the top 100? Can this interest translate to India building a world class football unit?

For Priyansh Sharma, the EPL is the automatic choice for many reasons. “The matches are in the evening or early at night. You can catch a game with friends and head back home. The Spanish and Italian leagues are later at night. It helps that superstars such as Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and others play in the EPL.”

He adds, “I began watching football with the EPL for the past six years. I do watch some matches in the other leagues. I feel that EPL provides a better football than other leagues. Though it is heavily commercialised, the standard of the games are very high.”

As far as helping Indian football grow, Priyansh is circumspect. “Interest alone will not change anything. Indian football needs more funds, better gear and training facilities to ensure that a shift happens. It will take a lot of time.” Software professional Jayanarayanan concurs with Priyansh. “I watch the EPL regularly since I am free during weekends. I like the manner in which the EPL is covered. The camera angles are much better from the viewer’s standpoint. The sound from the stands also contributes to the overall feel of the match. As far as India competing at international level is concerned, I am not very sure. The manner in which the Indian cricket team is playing, you may win some fans. But as far as serious football is concerned, it will take many generations before an Indian team can challenge the world.”

Advertising professional Geo Joseph, a Liverpool supporter says: “EPL is popular in India, because they were the first imports on the Indian sports broadcast scene. Most EPL fans in their late 30s would be Manchester United followers, because that was the team that was doing well at that point. The younger lot will be Arsenal, Chelsea and the occasional Manchester City fan. Most people pick sides based on their success ratio.

“As far as helping India emerge as a football powerhouse, the process will take time.

However, the last decade has seen an increase in the number for Indian football enthusiasts enrolling in international football academies. Clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool have already set up their academies in the country. Players coming through this system will definitely be better trained in the technical and physical aspects of the game.”

Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg was amazed at the support his former club enjoys in the country. “The fan following is simply amazing. We are seeing more and more talented youngsters join training camps inspired by what they watch on TV. I hope the trend continues.”

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 3:18:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-craze-for-english-premier-league/article6334982.ece

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