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Arsenal, ManUtd, Chelsea, Liverpool: 4 EPL fan clubs to join

12,000km away from England, EPL fan clubs in Mumbai gather by the hundreds to chant and cheer for their teams, and make enough noise to be officially recognised.

football Updated: Aug 08, 2015 16:30 IST
Poorva Joshi
Arsenal-Mumbai-Supporter-s-Club-AMSC-was-the-first-ever-in-India-to-be-made-official-in-2008-Photo-Arsenal-Mumbai-Supporter-s-Club
Arsenal-Mumbai-Supporter-s-Club-AMSC-was-the-first-ever-in-India-to-be-made-official-in-2008-Photo-Arsenal-Mumbai-Supporter-s-Club

The back room at 3 Wise Monkeys (TWM), Khar, is dimly lit. There is a huge poster of the Manchester United logo on one wall. A rolled-up screen and two speakers, mounted on stands, are on one side. “You see that false ceiling?” says Sunil Thakur, the owner of the pub, pointing to a section of the roof. It looks like it has been recently fixed. “That crashed last year. People were up on tables, screaming and thumping the ceiling,” he says. “It was an exciting day,” he says, much to our surprise.

As it turns out, he was partly responsible for breaking it. It wasn’t vandalism. It was just fan frenzy. Thakur and 200 odd 20-something boys — who call themselves the Manchester United Fan Club Mumbai (MUFCM) — were enjoying a fierce Man Utd versus Bayern Munich match, and the, quite literally brought the house down.

With the English Premier League starting on August 8, we caught up with the fan clubs of the major football squads — Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. All four are officially recognised by the parent clubs, and are recreating the league experience 12,000km away from the game. With screenings, discounted drinks and food, and a whole lot of screaming, chanting and cheering, their screenings are a must-attend for a football fan.

It’s Official

The clubs trace their existence to Orkut, the original social media platform. Supporters of each club met through ‘scraps’ (the predecessor to Facebook posts) back in 2005. Yug K Pathak, secretary for Chelsea India Supporter’s Club Mumbai (CISCM), says: “The club founders met simply to enjoy a game. That is where the idea came about. They called on their friends and other Chelsea fans, and that is how we slowly built our base.” The stories of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were similar. The social media boom since then has been their golden ticket to expanding across the city. By 2010, all four clubs had a steady following, a committee-of-sorts to manage the influx of more people, and the funds to host at least one screening a month.


Arsenal supporters at the PUMA Arsenal kit launch, in Mumbai. (Photo credit: PUMA)


As official members (individuals who have purchased membership from the official clubs in England) in each supporter’s club increased, they inched closer to the title of ‘official supporter’s club’. As per regulations, each supporter club with at least 80 official members is recognised by the parent club. Arsenal Mumbai Supporter’s Club (AMSC) was the first-ever in India to be made official in 2008. The others followed, and were all recognised by 2013. Liverpool even appointed an official representative to bridge the gap between the official club and its supporters. Now, the English club is up to date on the happenings of the supporter club in Mumbai and directly aware of their fans’ expectations.

Fan Power

The number of people attending the screening has consistently grown since the 2000s. Today, each club sees roughly 350 to 400 fans per screening. They pack the venues, and often take the celebrations out onto the streets. “We have chants for each game. We give printouts (of the chants) to newcomers so that they can join in. We stand up on tables, dance, and sometimes go running out on to the road when we win. It’s pandemonium,” says Pathak. The Liverpool squad’s chants are a spin on popular Bollywood numbers such as Main Tera Hero. “We sing when the team scores. I don’t remember a single time when I went home without a hoarse throat,” says Neil Chheda, branch secretary for Liverpool Mumbai Supporter’s Club (LMSC).

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Ian Rush with LMSC. (Photo credit: Liverpool Mumbai Supporter’s Club)

The demographics have changed over a period of time. Today, nearly 40% of the crowd comprises women. “Girls come with their boyfriends. Some of them have enjoyed the experience so much that they keep coming back even if the couple has broken up,” adds Chheda. The screenings even attract families — fathers with their toddlers is a common sight at the event. “Some of our oldest members, who are now married and have kids, come back with their wives and, at times, with their kids,” says Simaab Hashmi, president, LMSC.

Fans even travel across states to attend screenings. “We had a supporter who came from Surat to attend a screening. It was a midnight game, so he reached Mumbai by evening, attended the screening, and left the next morning. That, too, on a weekday,” says Chheda.

Hashmi recounts another bizarre incident, with a fan asking if sabudana khichdi could be arranged for. “The person was fasting, but didn’t want to miss the screening,” he laughs.

Screening Process

Each club host 10 to 15 screenings on an average, every year. They tie up with restaurants. Zouk, in Andheri, is a common venue for the Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool clubs. For every screening, the club offers a special discount on the food and drinks. The entry is roughly set at `350, inclusive of the club cover charges. The venues also go out of their way for its loyal customers. “The match timings are odd, but we are allowed to stay back till 6am so we can head home once the trains start functioning,” says Chheda.

MUFCM considers TWM their ‘home ground’. With its owner being an active committee member, the back room is a designated screening room, and he takes the call on how many members to permit for a screening. “We have had to turn people away in the past due to overcrowding. A huge crowd does add to the fun, but we can’t afford to have a stampede,” says Thakur. “I believe it is essential for the club owners to be a part of these supporter clubs, or at least be football fans. So, accidents like the roof crashing in are not a surprise for me the next morning,” he says.

Until last year, the clubs willingly hosted joint screenings. They added to the competitive atmosphere and acted as good networking platforms for football fans, especially in a cricket-obsessed country. Unfortunately, the rivalry has turned ugly at times. During the 2013-14 EPL season, the animousity between Liverpool and Manchester United led to a public brawl at Zouk. There was physical assault, and the police was involved. “Fights kill the sporting vibe. That is not the kind of environment we want to promote,” says Chheda. After this incident, all the clubs have incorporated a policy of banning members who misbehave and engage in fights. They are not allowed to attend future screenings.

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Manchester United supporters. (Photo credit: Manchester United Fan Club Mumbai)


Passion Over Profit

Making money, the clubs emphasise, is not a priority during screenings. They pocket a meagre Rs 50 per person out of the entry charge. This income is again used to host weekly football meets (at Andheri Sports Club, for LMSC; Kick, Powai for MUFCM; Shivaji Park, Dadar, for CISCM and for AMSC). “We book the turf, so our members can avail a discount,” says Thakur.

MUFCM and LMSC have also tied up with Teach For India to provide football lessons to underprivileged students every week. “We pay the coaches and also buy football kits for the kids from the club funds,” says Thakur. CISCM buys official merchandise for its members, and gives it out by holding Twitter trivia contests and lucky draws during the screenings. “The idea is to give back to the fans,” says Pathak.

Beyond the rivalry and the philanthropy, though, the clubs are singularly driven by their madness for the game.“Football is coming out of cricket’s shadow. We want to bring the international players to India so they can see the following they have. Maybe we can even host a game in Mumbai some day,” Pathak hopes.

YOUR GUIDE TO THIS EPL SEASON

=> Arsenal
Captain: Mikel Arteta
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Star players: Alexis Sánchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Facebook: 33 million members
Twitter: 6.1 million followers

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/8/Arsenal_home_away.jpg

Team kits: Left - Away kit; Right: Home kit

=> Liverpool
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Star players: James Milner, Christian Benteke
Facebook: 25 million members
Twitter: 4.6 million followers

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/8/Liverpool_home_away.jpg

Team kits: Left - Away kit; Right: Home kit

=> Chelsea
Captain: John Terry
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Star players: Diego Costa, Oscar dos Santos
Facebook: 43 million members
Twitter: 5.9 million followers

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/8/Chelsea_home_away.jpg

Team kits: Left - Home kit: Right - Away kit

=> Manchester United
Captain: Wayne Rooney
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Star players: Morgan Schneiderlin, Wayne Rooney
Facebook: 65 million members
Twitter: 5.7 million followers

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/8/Manchester-HOME.jpg

Manchester United's home kit; Away kit is yet to be launched



*** EPL FAN CLUBS IN MUMBAI

=> Arsenal (arsenalmumbai.com)
Started in: 2006
Official since: 2008
Maximum number at a screening: 600 people
President: Niket Shah
Facebook: 121k+ members
Twitter: 3,400+ followers
Screening venue: Zouk, Hotel Imperial Palace, Andheri (E)
Call: 2683 5718 | Entry: Rs 350

=> Liverpool (lfcmumbai.com)
Started in: 2008
Official since: 2013
Maximum number at a screening: 650 people
President: Simaab Hashmi
Facebook: 4,600+ members
Twitter: 2,050+ followers
Screening venue: Zouk, Hotel Imperial Palace, Andheri (E)
Call: 2683 5718 | Entry: Rs 350

=> Chelsea (chelseaindia.com)
Started in: 2007
Official since: 2009
Maximum number at a screening: 350 people
President: Shrenik Garge
Facebook: 36,000 members
Twitter: 8,500+ followers
Screening venue: Zouk, Hotel Imperial Palace, Andheri (E)
Call: 2683 5718 | Entry: Rs 250

=> Manchester United (manutdmumbai.in)
Started in: 2005
Official since: 2013
Maximum number at a screening: 400 people
President: Sunil Thakur
Facebook: 8,300+ members
Twitter: 3,700+ followers
Screening venue: 3 Wise Monkeys, The Unicontinental Hotel, Khar (W)
Call: 6561 0326 | Entry: Rs 500

Catch the game: The English Premier League will air on Star Sports HD, from August 8 (9.45pm onward) to May 15, 2016.

Visit premierleague.com for the entire schedule.

(The writer tweets as @poorvajoshi93)