In Part II, the claim that all Indian supporters are bandwagon supporters was explained and rebuffed as a false notion, and to add to that, what Arsenal fans in India did to support the club was described – whether it be through merchandise, or staying up till odd hours on weekdays to watch UEFA Champions League games. If you haven’t read it, read it here. Also, if you haven’t read Part I, read it here.
In Part III, I give an example of how Indian supporters can get as crazy about Arsenal as anyone in England would. This is in addition to discussing how India is a growing market for football, how supporter groups are popping up in various cities in India, and finally, how India’s population suffers a lack of exposure to the sport through mainstream media such as newspapers and magazines.
As die-hard about Arsenal FC as it gets?
Another brilliant example of how intense our support can get for our clubs (and more importantly, Arsenal FC) is Aby Baby Kuruvilla – a die-hard supporter who created this hilarious yet brilliant video to win a VIP trip to the UK to watch Arsenal play Liverpool at home in February 2010.
Honestly, there are not a lot of Arsenal supporters anywhere in the world, who would have the guts to do a video like that. Some of you are probably of the opinion that he made an utter fool of himself – but he won an all-expenses paid trip to watch Arsenal play at the Emirates – so the joke is on you, really.
But more seriously – his support is matched by thousands of people all over India who love Arsenal FC for what the club is and what it stands for – but have not been lucky enough to witness Arsenal play at the Emirates live. Aby’s video reminds me of a certain fanatic in a fictitious game called I AM PLAYR on Facebook supported by Arsenal favorite Lee Dixon, but the difference here is that that Aby is from India; he had never been to a game before this. It is clear that die-hard supporters exist everywhere, and it is about time for certain people who proclaim to be the only “true supporters” in a very elitist fashion to accept how things really are.
India – an emerging market for Arsenal FC and football as a whole
Also, as mentioned earlier – Arsenal FC, among other clubs – are recognizing that India is an emerging market for the sport that needs to be tapped. They tied up with Tata Tea to organize the Tata Tea Soccer Stars program - a tournament that identified 30 youngsters in India to be trained by Arsenal coaches, after which 16 were sent to Arsenal’s annual International Soccer Festival. The Tata Tea Soccer Stars program’s first team won the Plate Cup at the 18th Arsenal International Soccer Festival at the Royal Hallway Stadium in London back in 2008.
In addition to this, other clubs like Manchester United have set up training camps for youngsters in Mumbai, and coaching academies like PIFAsend youngsters to camps at certain elite clubs in England, Italy and Spain.
This, along with the fact that the sport is gaining more recognition through continuous coverage through certain media channels is further proving the point that India is an emerging market for football (among a wide variety of things – seeing that India is a developing country with a huge youth population), and therefore, to a certain extent, Arsenal FC as well.
Growth of supporter groups in metropolitan cities
To add to all of this, supporters are actively organizing screenings in specific cities in India, with various supporter clubs popping up in cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. If Facebook pages are anything to go by, Bangalore has over 11,000 users on their page, while Mumbai has just over 6,000 - and this, while representing a respectable figure, in reality probably represents a minority of the actual number of fans in those specific cities – let alone the entire nation. These groups will continue to grow with time as more events are held, and social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter has and will help their cause greatly.
To me, it is really a different experience altogether to be able to watch Arsenal games with other die-hard fans. And more importantly, it helps build a solid community for more people to join, and further expands the Gooner Family that is talked of with so much pride and passion. By building big supporter groups that are recognized by the club – you could be lucky enough to be noticed and acknowledged by the club – and this can only be a good thing. Look at it this way, if Arsenal wanted to do a tour of the Indian subcontinent, and they were aware of big supporter groups in certain cities in India, wouldn’t that boost the chances of them doing something in your city?
So here’s what you, as an Arsenal fan in India (or any other country for that matter) ought to do, if you’re in a big city and you haven’t looked up any of the supporter groups that are present in your city, go to their Facebook pages or websites, contact them, and go to their screenings! If you’re in a city/town that doesn’t have a supporter group – create one! Even a Facebook page that is regularly updated and shared around can generate a certain amount of buzz, and lead on to something more tangible. Get something started, or get in with what is already organized in your city. It is completely worth the effort.
To conclude in the last part of this series, I will discuss an interesting topic of conversation that came up after I released Part II of this series, and eventually conclude by describing how being an Arsenal fan in India, all in all, will eventually come down to a single dream, a single goal. Some lucky fans realize this dream, while some fans wait patiently in the hope that they get their chance.