English Premier League (EPL) is one the leading highlights amongst the Indian youth. However, even as these youths rage and rant on about their favourite clubs, somehow I have always found them to be supportive of the Big 4s – or the Fantastic Four, as I prefer to call them. For laymen who don’t understand this nomenclature, it simply means Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Looking at the EPL hierarchy today, some might wonder about my persistence to name these four clubs as still being the elite of the elite. But just as one of my friends told me, where the other clubs might have the credibility of monetarily-purchased loyalty; these clubs have the uniqueness of making players offer their allegiance, irrespective of the monetary issues.
Bringing the focus back to youths and their driven fan-commitment, I should mention that while in college, I did meet a few hardcore loyalists – like the native ones in England. However with the difference that these guys supported only the top-tiered clubs unlike the indigenous English crowd whose favouritism borders on the basis on zones and cities and districts.
In India, one cannot go into a local sports shop and ask for a Newcastle United’s Gutierrez jersey. Au contraire, we can definitely go and ask for an Andy Carroll jersey because of the simple reason that he has transferred clubs from Newcastle to Liverpool. To be honest, even a dime-store variety economist could pinpoint, that this happens because the local kiosks in their keenness to increase their sales, keep more prominent jerseys. But fact remains that not everyone is interested in an Andy Carroll or a Wayne Rooney jersey and that there are still some people want to own a Corluka or a Cahill jersey with the same passion. Similar to the state of EPL is the saga of lesser known clubs in La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and all other international club football bodies that exist.
The downside of so many famous players’ jerseys being spotted is that, one is never able to decipher who is a true football fan and who is wearing the jersey because of all the hype surrounding the player. David Beckham might have changed clubs a zillion times, but whichever club the midfielder joins anew, one can be sure to find a jersey with his name irrespective of people actually knowing about MLB or La Liga.
And this is not just about the jerseys. Scarves, flags, badges and all other football memorabilia – they come with the logos of the top teams while the other teams look like a redundant line of scrawled post scriptum. If I were a non-top club fan – which I am – I am left bereft and thinking about importing these souvenirs from parts of the world where they are sure to be available, without consideration to the cost.
So where exactly does the problem lie? In a country like India, where there is a mishmash of everything right from ethnicity to sports, should one stop being an Everton or an Athletico Madrid fan just because the more popular flavours emerge from Chelsea or Barcelona or should one be content to support their favourites without accompanying colours of any sort?