How does one become a football fan in India?
Growing up, I used to memorize the statistics of different cricket players in trading cards. These trading card games were played for hours. Then there were the roadside games. Although football seemed a lot easier to play, we lived playing cricket in our childhood. We broke window panes, we troubled travellers and we created a lot of mayhem.
Fans have grown with a little bit of exposure to football and it is natural that they are attracted to the game.
If not, then how does one become a football fan?
The phase where it all beings – Generally, in my childhood, I had no idea about anything even remotely associated with club or international football nor did I know someone who was a football fan. When ESPN or Star Sports used to telecast football games, I blindly changed the channels. I found Vinod Kambli’s hairstyles more appealing.
The “Well, I could use some showing off” phase – Then the Curious Joe phase of your transformation into a football fan begins. You want to show off that you know something other than just cricket to your friends. Hockey is estranged, Formula 1 was becoming too common and already there are people who know a lot more about tennis than you ever will. Football remains the one thing that has a lot of untapped potential. Now, you begin to learn names of famous footballers. In my case, those were Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Rivaldo. Then you watch World Cup football games and rave about how great Brazil are.
Still, you secretly change the channel to watch Sachin Tendulkar‘s ‘best ODI knocks’ on Star Cricket when no one is around you despite a live football game on TV.
“Hala X, Y Rocks!” phase - You fix your allegiance to a specific team and begin watching their games. You are probably supporting that team because it has a world class star and they are winning almost all games. But still, you find it easy to shift your allegiance to another team if your current team is losing or if your favourite star is sold to another team. You may even try to post random stuff that would irritate at least 100 other people on internet forums and you don’t care if your post is relevant or sensible.
At this point, you feel that posting about cricket on internet is too mainstream.
“I need to figure this game out” phase – Now, the phase of struggle begins. Your beloved teams begin to play some games on weekends and some on weekdays. At times, there are talks about quarterfinals, semifinals and at times, nobody plays extra time and penalty shootouts for drawn games because these games are part of some ‘league’. Generally, you are puzzled. Then you realise the difference between domestic leagues, cups and Champions League. Now, at this point, you can very well call yourself a football fan.
After this stage, the game begins to grow on you. You set up alarms in the middle of the night to watch football games. You do a lot more than just talk about these games and exclaim how ‘awesome’ they were. Cricket now has lost its shine. Now, you might watch some Test matches and some IPL games but you can live without them.
The phase where realisation strikes you – You begin to realise how stupid you have been through all these years. Now, you begin to follow club football with almost the same amount of rigour with which you followed cricket earlier. You still hypocritically want your club management to assemble a fantasy football squad, not knowing about the finances of your club and you still voice your discontent at a manager if he begins to lost 4-5 games in a row.
But your passion about the game increases. You rip off perfectly normal shirts when your team scores a last minute goal and you verbally abuse anyone who doesn’t like your team.
Cricket is slowly losing its importance in your life.
The Evangelist phase – You’ve come to terms with reality. You now realise that the Giggses and Maldinis are bigger players than the Ronaldos and Ronaldinhoes. You begin to preach about the beauty of the game and how it is meant to be played wherever you go. A thing that started as a show-off has now become an integral part of your everyday life. You cannot pass a single day without ESPN and you watch all matches regardless of the team that you support.
You now accept defeat graciously and now, you really mean it when you say something like “no player is bigger than the club itself”. You can probably speak about football and the history of your team for hours.
Your internet language becomes clean and you try to invoke sense into other people. Football is no longer something that you watch on TV. It has become an integral part of your life, without which you simple cannot function normally.