Everything associated with sports is larger than life. The players & their records, the teams & their victories, the stadiums & their histories are celebrated grandly by fans across the world, and rightly so. After all, these are the components which essentially make sport what it is. However, there is one breed associated with sports which does not get much attention. They spend hours watching sports & memorizing statistics, paint their bodies with team colors, scream encouragement for players as if the players can hear them and sometimes spend a fortune to merely see their favorite teams play live. Fans, as they are popularly called, are an important part of sports. This article is devoted to all of them, irrespective of the team or player they support.
Sports fans have a huge impact on players’ and teams’ success or downfall. Sporting heroes rise because of their natural skills and athletic gifts but they become immortal when the passionate fans back them in their journey to stardom. In the modern era, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Michael Schumacher, Usain Bolt, Sachin Tendulkar, Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo are some of the sportsmen who have enjoyed immense following from fans across the world. Sports teams have also banked on the loyalties of their fans in their journey to achieve greatness. Manchester United, Real Madrid, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, etc. are some of the teams that have achieved cult status thanks to the incredible fan base that they have enjoyed over the years.
Sachin Tendulkar is often referred to as the ‘God of Cricket’. Whenever he walks out to bat in a stadium, there is an altogether different level of excitement in the air, and his dismissal often brings the stadium to a pin-drop silence. His achievements are collectively enjoyed by everybody and it is almost as if he is obliged to always perform well for us fans. The level of fan following that he has can easily be demonstrated by this example: In a recent survey which included public votes amongst other factors, he was selected as one of the Top 10 Greatest Indians ever. The other personalities in this list comprised of senior political leaders including former Presidents and Prime Ministers and social reformers like Mother Teresa, and all of them were at least double his age. Some of them are not even alive today.
Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary is one such die-hard fan who travels to all Indian home games with his body painted as the Indian flag. It is said that Sachin himself provides him with tickets for the matches. It was a wonderful gesture by Sachin Tendulkar when he invited this loyal fan to Team India’s dressing room at the Wankhede stadium to hold the World Cup in 2011.
One more extraordinary example is that of an 89-year-old lady in Chennai, Saraswathi Vaidyanathan, who fondly considers Sachin to be her grandson. Even at this age, she manages to remember all his statistics, and stays awake late at night to watch him play. Her son says that all her medical issues get sorted once she watches Sachin bat. Sachin rightly reciprocated by taking out time to meet this wonderful lady, and sought her blessings in 2010 at Chennai.
When we talk about club loyalties, one astounding example is that of a group of Sikhs who are die-hard fans of Manchester United. They have been following Manchester United by attending all the home games at Old Trafford for 20-25 years; one of them has been doing it for 35 years. They are season ticket holders and generally sit right beside the dugout. The club had rightly honored their loyalty by featuring some of them in a Manchester United pre-season advertising campaign in 2009.
On the contrary, players occasionally have to bear the brunt of angry fans if they fail to live up to the expectations. In India, cricketers are often the most admired and the most hated bunch of people, depending on their performance on the field. Team India’s poor start in the 2003 World Cup led to fans venting out their anger by burning posters and even attacking a few cricketers’ homes in India. Whether this outburst inspired the Indian team to suddenly raise their game and reach the finals of the World Cup is debatable though.
In sports where club transfers are involved, players are subjected to extreme hatred if ever they decide to change their clubs. A recent example being Robin Van Persie, who had to face the wrath of Arsenal supporters after he decided to leave Arsenal and join rivals Manchester United. Basketball superstar Lebron James also faced a similar situation when he left Cleveland Cavaliers and joined Miami Heat in search of a championship for himself.
Yes, fans are sometimes a bit too harsh and demanding. But it is important for the players and sports officials to respect the sentiments and preferences of fans in order to ensure success in the long run. Today when we say Test cricket is dying, it is primarily due to the low attendance that we witness in the stadiums. Rahul Dravid did take up this point in his speech in Australia last year when he spoke about the need for cricket administrators to become a little more fan-centric. When the lockout struck the NBA last year in the US, it was not only the players and the officials who were affected. The fans were left waiting helplessly for their heroes to rise again.
So all you fans out there, take some time out of your hectic schedule, which includes cheering for your favorite players and teams, following the transfer updates, memorizing statistics and watching match clippings. Take some time out and quietly applaud yourselves for being such wonderful fans. You are an integral part of sports. You, avid sports fans, are instrumental in making the game, the players and the teams successful. Sports would be nothing without you. Take a bow, all of you!