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Why it's unfair to dismiss foreign fans as plastic

Shambhu Ajith
FEATURED WRITER
Feature
800   //    13 Feb 2018, 12:06 IST

Manches
Manchester United fans in India at a match screening

It's the February of 2014. The winter's just decamping and the soil is warming up to brighter days. But in the humid parts of the Indian subcontinent, we're just coasting on the unforgiving de facto summer from a slightly less warm place.

My roommate Kevin is pacing up and down the room and there is a sense of gloom on his face that's rubbing off on me as well. "If we are to be in the Champions League next season, we are going to have to win the Champions League this season."

My heart breaks in two and sinks like a sheep that chanced upon quicksand. He says that and sighs in angst as he looks at the poster on the wall that reads Giggs will tear you apart again. Every time that the phrase is read out loud in the room, the hair on the back of my neck stands up and acknowledges.

In a moment though, they'll sink back into their follicles but this time, it felt like they did so whilst sharing my grief. And later in the night, as Moyesy's Manchester United floundered chance after chance to put the game to bed against Fulham, 20th on the table, the noise in the mess hall was starting to be bogging for the mind.

United clawed back into the game with 2 goals in the 78th and 80th minutes before Darren Bent popped up just before the game was about to kick the bucket and stole 2 points from us.

As the rest of the hooligans rocketed up off their seats in celebration of some solid schadenfreude at our cost, we sank further into our chairs, pulling our faces to a static as the proverbial ice melted and we hit the ground face first.


Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Scenes from Old Trafford

Back in Manchester, several weeks of dejection was undoubtedly messing with the Mancunians. There'll always be an emotion that they hold against the foreign fans and it's a fair argument we will need to concede to. They didn't choose the club they will be loyal to for life.

Football was what tied the working class together and heading into the weekends, your mood could get upturned if the local lads were to show up with a thoroughly sumptuous serving of football to wash away all the shakes from the previous week.

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They didn't up and decide on a fine morning that they'd support a particular club as a weekend diversion. If you were born in Merseyside and your family supported Liverpool, you supported Liverpool.

They go to the games that we follow on the idiot box and therefore, they will claim that those on the other side of the world, do not have the same connection with the club. I concede again and at this point, I feel like Stoke City as the deficit rises in favour of the 'OG's.

After all, these clubs are essentially the representation of the local people, or at least they used to be. But they could not hold on to it as tightly as they would have liked to as the clubs evolved into global brands.

The Top
The 'Top-6' Premier League clubs are known all around the world

The financial complexities of sustaining such a global image were detrimental to the working class. It came at their cost largely. Ticket prices were shooting up, the local lads in the local teams were getting replaced by those who were unfamiliar with the air of the streets, the graffiti on the walls and the wild scamper around the turnstiles.

The hyper-commercialized European football was cheesing them off by catering to people they had no connection with and the animosity would seem warranted. Well, not animosity as such, but surely, a negative feeling. From their perspective, the game was breaking out of its roots and slowly but surely becoming not entirely theirs.

Put yourself in their shoes and why would you feel any differently?

The 'Prawns Sandwich Brigade' was helping the club grow and they were growing in relevance in the international market. Local clubs that survived on the ticket prizes were selling their merchandise all over the world and they were never short of buyers.

With demand, the cost of everything related to the club was on the rise and clubs branched out of the place they were planted and reached out to the rest of the world, and boy did they respond?


As the game transcended boundaries and was welcomed all across the world, players became stars... global ones at that. They were no longer a part of the working class community that reflected or shared their struggles.

Phi
Philippe Coutinho(L) and Neymar(R) were recently purchased for staggering sums of money

Being paid ridiculous amounts of money on a weekly basis, footballers slowly started getting comfortable in their own shells. It was a first-class ride from community to celebrity. And football has evolved from a local spectacle to a sport with stakes so high that unless you're rolling in dough, you haven't got much of a say in it.

Players come and go as the word loyalty stands with one foot out the door.

But were fans from elsewhere the heathenish harbingers of this scenario? At the end of the day, it's the love for the game that has overseen its expansion.

What qualifies us as football fans anyway?


'Glory hunters', a term that is used and reused to describe fans from oceans away for their proclivity to shore up clubs that take a confetti shower at the end of the season before heading off for their vacations as champions.

But it is rather reductive and absolutist to tag them as such just because they are deemed to not understand the gravitas of the cultural heritage in addition to being gauged to have been cajoled by a promise of bragging rights at whatever shindigs they venture into with their peers.

It's not the bragging rights that excites fans anymore. It is the feeling of being an extension of the ethos of a community, a feeling of belonging, so humane, redeeming and universal in its reach because after all, are there more reassuring feelings in the world than knowing that you're not alone?

Owing to being on the side of the world that greets the sun the earliest, fans in, take Asia for example, often stay up way past midnight, in spite of having professional obligations to attend to, to not miss one second of their team in action.

Football has become so inextricably woven into our lives that, for one, I don't remember being anything but a Manchester United fan.

Local fans will ask foreign fans to go support a local club and forward all our money there but we're just in the process of welcoming club football into the community. And if you have any doubts regarding the fervour and excitement involved, check out a team called Kerala Blasters and their fanbase...

But football has always been the sport so many have fallen in love with. Thanks to cable TV, we have had our servings of the game since long back and I'm sorry (not sorry) but nobody gets to tell anybody what or who they should fall in love with.

By choice or by birth, we've ended up here.

Should the game divide us or unite us? Your call.

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Shambhu Ajith
FEATURED WRITER
Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Football is freedom - Bob Marley
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