Intercontinental Cup 2018: How one video from captain Sunil Chhetri turned cricket-crazy Mumbai towards the beautiful game
India has always been a cricket loving nation and the people in the city of Mumbai are always in a frenzy over the sport. Undoubtedly, the national cricket team has been backed by supporters not only across India, but overseas as well. Growing up, every child wants to become the next Kapil Dev, Sunil Gawaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and nowadays, MS Dhoni or perhaps even the next Virat Kohli.
In a cricket crazy nation like ours, fans go to such bizarre extents wherein, believing in superstitions such as them not eating, or avoiding a shower would make the Indian cricketers perform better. Amid all the love for cricket, one sport that has quietly been progressing over the sidelines is football. The Blue Tigers recently broke into the top 100 on the FIFA rankings in over two decades, but nobody seemed to bat an eye.
It is fans and groups like the Blue Pilgrims among others who have devoted themselves towards bringing upon a change in the current pitiful situation of lack of awareness and fan following in and around football in India. Not that there is a lack of fan following in the country when it comes to football, however, people tend to follow success of football outside of the nation a lot more.
This is the kind of change India needs, and fans such as the Blue Pilgrims and the likes are working towards. The lengths to which these individuals go to support and promote Indian football is beyond words. Be it banners, chants, traveling around the subcontinent - you name it, and these fans have done it. It took a pleading captain to bring people out of their homes to fill up the stadium in support of the Blue shirt. In his video, Sunil Chhetri promised the fans that the team would put on a show to make it worthwhile for the fans who show up to the games only to deliver on his statement a day later - and how!
Mumbai is currently hosting the Intercontinental Cup 2018, wherein four countries - India, New Zealand, Kenya and Chinese Taipei - are competing against one another. On June 1, 2018, when the tournament kicked off with India thumping Chinese Taipei 5-0, there were barely any football fans in the stadium to witness the exuberant display. Post this match, Chhetri reached out to the fans across the country through a video shared on his social media accounts, pleading for support prior to India’s fixture against Kenya on June 4, 2018.
The video spread like wildfire and Sunil Chhetri made his 100th national team appearance against the African Confederation nation before the eyes of a full house. The stadium reverberated with the buzz of the fans and history was created as the Indian captain had managed to sell out all the tickets singlehandedly with the help of a video.
Chettri had asked beseeching football fans in India to come out in numbers to fill up the stands of the stadium and support the Blue Tiger. They did not disappoint him and the rest of the team as thousands poured in to create a terrific atmosphere for them.
His plea was backed by the entire sports fraternity of India along with a bunch of celebrities in Bollywood as well, hence they need to be lauded for helping achieve this feat as well.
When the captain calls, you just cannot say no; and as a result, the entire Mumbai Football Arena was sold out for the skipper’s hundredth game.
Sportskeeda had the opportunity to catch up with a few fans and fan clubs who travelled from all over India to be at the Andheri West stadium in full support of the Indian football team.
A cricket loving Bharat Army came in full force to Back the Blue
Over the years, The Bharat Army have constantly expanded their devoted band of dedicated enthusiasts and their efforts have been appreciated and acknowledged by Team India as well as the global cricketing media. The Bharat Army is popularly known as the official Indian cricket team supporters group worldwide.
Speaking to The Bharat Army, we learned about how major an impact Chhetri’s video had made on them.
“When the captain of your country makes such an emotional and heartfelt plea, we felt we had to show our support to the Indian football team as well," Rakesh Patel, founder of the Bharat Army. "It was the guys from the Blue Pilgrims who contacted us and asked us to stand side by side in support of the football team – how could we say no?
"The guys from the Blue Pilgrims did a fantastic job in creating such a superb atmosphere, so the credit should go to them, but what was pleasing to see was Indian fans from all sports coming together to support the national football team," he said.
“We hope in the near future we can extend the Bharat Army Supporters Group to support the national football team as well as other developing sports in India,” Rakesh Patel signed off.
When the Reds came out in Blue
Established way back in 2006, the Manchester United Supporters Club in Mumbai were handed over an official affiliation from the Manchester club a few years ago. The club has been hosting match screenings in Mumbai over the years, gathering hundreds of supporters of the Red Devils.
Having collaborated with The Bharat Army to support the Indian cricket team before, MUSCM too came out in support of Chhetri and co. this time around.
Speaking about the kind of impact Sunil’s plea had had on them and the kind of atmosphere that Mumbai created in Andheri on June 4, here is what Karn Rateria had to say, “Despite being a Manchester United supporters’ club, we have always been supportive of local football, promoting the local matches amongst our members. However, the captain's plea moved us even more and we were compelled to take prompt action.
“We took it upon ourselves to respond to it and had around hundred people go for the game from our networks. Hats off to the Blue Pilgrims who created a fantastic atmosphere at the stadium," he added.
"Being Sunil Chhetri’s 100th game, we are glad we could be a part of an atmosphere that he definitely deserved to have on this special day. Everyone is excited about the next two games, and the groups are abuzz with chatter around it. We are so happy to see football games in Mumbai sold out,” Rateria further said.
Regulars in the stands - the West Block Blues
The West Block Blues have been devoted fans who have travelled all around India, and sometimes even outside of the country, to back not only Bengaluru FC but the Indian football team as well.
Be it a regular friendly game, an Indian Super League (ISL) fixture, AFC Cup match, or the U-17 FIFA World Cup that India hosted, you will always spot a blue banner that reads ‘West Block Blues’ in the stands of the stadium.
Sportskeeda caught up with Waseem Ahmed, founder of the West Block Blues and he gave us an insight into the amount of effort and coordination his team puts in for each of the fixtures – be it for BFC or for the national side. Telling us a little more about the West Block Blues, Waseem said, “The West Block Blues comprises of a mix of all kinds of people. We are like a family that comes together to support Indian football.”
Travelling to all of BFC and India games in and outside of India, the West Block Blues even started an initiative that aids fans who cannot afford accommodation in the hosting city, to bunk together.
This initiative was started over a hashtag – #BedsForTravelingFans. This resourcefulness became a game changer and encouraged more and more football fans in India to get involved.
Supporting since the very beginning - The Blue Pilgrims
Every chant you hear in the stadium, every touching fan story you see on the internet, all the banners and posters that you see on television or in the stands in each stadium the Blue Tigers are playing in; all of it has always got to do something or the other with the Blue Pilgrims. These are the guys responsible for those surreal stadium experiences that leave you flabbergasted, with goosebumps all over your body.
The Blue Pilgrims are a dedicated club of Indian football fans who come together from different club football fandoms to form one core group.
'Divided by clubs, united by the country' – rightly so, the Blue Pilgrims was a fan club that came into place when Waseem Ahmed and various members of his team came forward to go out in numbers and fill up the stadiums during the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup.
He told Sportskeeda, “There is a lot of football club rivalry in India, to a point where we enjoy hating each other. A number of us wanted a platform where all national football team fans could come together and support the team.
“Blue Pilgrims became a common ground for all of us fans who otherwise support different clubs in the country – be it the ISL or I-League, but when India plays, we all stand united, backing the boys,” Waseem added.
On being asked to tell us more on how the chanting in the entire stadium amid thousands of fans is so synchronized, Waseem revealed that the Pilgrims dedicatedly have practice sessions before a match day, where they gather around a hundred people to act as leaders of different sections in the stands and take the lead on the chants – thus, making it sound synced.
“We have different people working in different departments behind the scenes at Blue Pilgrims. Chants, travel, accommodation, and banners to name a few. The main purpose and vision of the Blue Pilgrims are to support Indian football. No matter where we go, we are a minimum of three hundred people travelling together to support the Indian football team,” Waseem signed off.
The kind of efforts these fans are putting into supporting Indian football and Backing the Blue absolutely incredible. Football in India is progressing, slowly but surely. Here on, the only way is forward and upward.