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Football fan clubs and Pune’s love for the game

A number of fan clubs of the top European football teams have resulted in more and more people introduced to the game of football in Pune 

pune Updated: Aug 07, 2017 19:26 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pune is one of the country’s premium sporting hubs and football is a sport that has a special connect with the people of the city.
Pune is one of the country’s premium sporting hubs and football is a sport that has a special connect with the people of the city.(HT Photo)

They are ecstatic, they are frenetic, and sometimes out of control. The football fan clubs in Pune, all possess a number of lively, over the top fans that often enriches the viewing experience. Even if their teams may not be performing as per their expected standards on the field, the noise level of these fans during the match screenings shows no signs of dwindling.

Telecasting matches on projectors in various sports lounges has helped bring like-minded fans together and they cheer on their team in numbers, doing their best to create a stadium-like atmosphere. 

Pune is one of the country’s premium sporting hubs and football is a sport that has a special connect with the people of the city. Gone are those days when people only flocked to electronic stores to watch the intriguing final overs of cricket matches. They have now developed an affinity towards the game of football.

The city is home to a number of fan clubs for the renowned European teams. Manchester United and Chelsea are two English sides that are extensively followed in Pune, while the La Liga giants FC Barcelona also have a large number of fans of their own, particularly due to the presence of the star attractions on their roster. Among others are Liverpool and Arsenal, who also have a bunch of passionate, hardcore football lovers, willing to go to any limit for the team that they love and adore. 

Let’s meet the fans.

Manchester United Supporters’ Club Pune (MUSCP) 

Founded in 2011, the Manchester United Supporters’ Club has grown in stature and glamour, and is now the city’s most talked about fan club. With their first screening taking place at Leather Lounge on MG Road in 2011, a number of different venues were tried and tested before co-founders Bhargav Shingre, Siddharth Keskar and Akshay Lulla settled for Aufside at Kumar Pacific Mall in Swargate. 

Six years ago, the co-founders of MUSCP started off as a group of avid Red Devils looking to do something for the club, and they have now formed a mini cult in the city and are on the cusp of achieving official recognition from Manchester United. On the July 21, 2017, they applied for the recognition, and are hoping for a positive response from the 13-time Premier League champions. 

Speaking exclusively to Hindustan Times, Bhargav Shingre narrates the fond six-year journey of the fan group, and hopes that the future takes MUSCP to new heights. He explains, “Initially, the idea was just to get a bunch of United fans together and watch all the big games, cheering our heroes. Six years ago, little did we imagine that it would grow to a level MUSCP is at today.” 

MUSCP have held screenings at Aufside for two seasons now, and the turnout has been huge. In fact, Bhargav has been astonished by the number of regular attendees and has said that their love for Manchester United has instilled mutual admiration among one another, and that the self-proclaimed ‘Pune’s Red Army’ consider each member as part of one huge family. 

He said, “The experience for me, as clichéd as it may sound, has been a deranged roller coaster ride. From 12 people to 450 for the recent Europa League final screening, we have grown with each passing season. I've personally seen strangers go from random United fans to best pals in the past 7 years, and I hope to reward them with an official recognition of which the club will make a decision and let us know by the second week of August.” 

Due to their meteoric growth, Bhargav tells us that he has come across people of various demographics and psychographics, all of whom share an undying passion for the club they hold extremely close to their heart. Often football fans from abroad have got in touch with the founders of MUSCP, and have joined in to watch games with them at Aufside. 

Oumar Aga, who works tediously behind the scenes to ensure the sublime execution of MUSCP events, is a die-hard Manchester United, loves being a part of this huge footballing fraternity in the city of Pune. Speaking to Hindustan Times as well, he explained the reason for making Aufside the home for all of the screenings and stated what different it brought to the table as compared to the venues in the past. 

He said, “The first venue was a sports lounge, but it wasn’t very spacious so we had to look for alternatives. Another venue had its screening zone in the basement, and due to large number of people it often got extremely hot down there. However, since we shifted to Aufside, all has been well, we’re close to attaining official status, and are relishing what the future holds for us.” 

Chelsea India Supporters Club (CISC) 

Unlike the other top English clubs, Chelsea have their own official website dedicated to the fans of India, which a number of cities have their own special sections in. It was in 2006 when a 20-year-old Mumbaikar Shrenik Garge envisaged an idea that would change how the sport is followed in the country. A hardcore Chelsea fan since his teenage years, Shrenik decided to launch CISC India. 

In his words, the purpose of creating a fan club was gathering all Chelsea Supporters under one roof (city-wise), primarily to watch major Chelsea matches together and have discussions on all things football. CISC is also one of the country’s first fan clubs to gain official recognition – which it achieved on June 14, 2009. 

Within a few years, the hype was so palpable that it spread to various cities and eventually reached Pune when the founders contacted Janak Kunkulol in 2010 to launch CISC in the city. Janak pounced on the opportunity without a moment’s hesitation and that began the journey of CISC Pune. 

Giving added insight as to how he launched the supporters club, Janak stated, “The ideas came to my mind during my college days when I used to visit lounges with fellow fans to cheer the team on. There I met with a number of like-minded Blues and thus the journey began. The founders of CISC saw my active participation in gathering Chelsea fans and told me to launch the fan club in the city.” 

Due to their affiliation with the parent club, few lucky members of CISC Pune were handed a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Stamford Bridge and watch the Chelsea side play live in front of a packed London crowd. Omkar Sonawane and Advait Kulkarni, two moderating members of the fan club, told us that there is a CISC banner at Stamford Bridge which has been made by a number of members during one of their pre-screening meets. 

Despite having moved to Indore a couple of months ago, Janak is still an active participant in the discussions and played a pivotal role in presiding over the annual Chelsea India exclusive event termed the Blue Arena. Here, Chelsea fan clubs from all over the country arrived at Aufside for a fun-filled session of various gaming activities. A Fustal tournament was a fitting way to kick-off the tournament, which was followed by a FIFA competition that lasted for nearly five hours. There was a quiz held among fan clubs of different cities, and the blockbuster concluded with the screening of a match against Manchester United. 

Now in its seventh year, CISC Pune is one of the country’s most prestigious fan clubs as they have often represented the city in national-level inter-supporter competitions. From a couple of fans enjoying watching the Blues play on the big screen, they are now a wholesome family of over 500 people meeting regularly to discuss the beautiful game. 

 

Arsenal Pune Supporters Club (APSC) 

It was in 2010 when a trio of Arsenal supporters - Akshay Kamthe, Akhil Nair and Neeraj Yardy – started a first of its kind supporters club for the North London outfit in the city. Until then, the idea of a gathered fan viewing party was something that took place 7000 miles away in the bars and pubs of England. However, these three determined and passionate fans worked collectively and diligently and achieved their dream to set up Arsenal Pune. 

Four years later, chairperson Kapil Sathe, secretary Dheeraj Shah and treasurer Suyash Thite together embarked on an initiative to gain official status from Arsenal Football Club. To achieve their goal, they sent the emails to Arsenal’s liaison’s officer Mark Brindle, hoping to complete the process for the 2014/15 season, but were informed by the LO to wait until the club renews the current crop of fan clubs before they could start registering new ones around the world. 

After two years of waiting, they finally achieved official recognition in 2016, and became only the fourth Arsenal supporters club in the country to be branded by the North London outfit. Brindle informed them about what would be needed to make them official, and the moderators duly complied, and met the club’s expectations in order for them to receive their official stamp of recognition. It was undoubtedly an immense moment of joy, and Kapil was ecstatic on receiving the news, and shared his reaction with Hindustan Times. 

He said, “At first we could not believe it as four years had gone by without us getting recognised by the club. However, all of us were joyous that we had achieved a major milestone since APSC’s inception in 2009, and we have now given ourselves the platform to achieve insurmountable heights in the foreseeable future.” 

The reason why every supporters club seeks to achieve official status is because it brings with it certain rewards and incentives for the members that have signed up for. Not only does it bring them a step closer to the club, but along with it, different goodies are on offer that every fan would love to have in their closet. It is also offers members an experience to visit the stadium and watch the team play live as tickets are offered at a discount, and they are specially invited by the club in fan events that take place throughout the country. 

Arsenal Pune Supporters Clubs are one of the city’s loudest and most passionate crop of fans. Regardless of their team’s performances on the pitch, there is nothing that can bring down the spirits once they are together cheering their side. Their screenings too take place at Aufiside, which is the city’s home for all football lovers. 

Liverpool Pune Supporters Club (LPSC) 

Liverpool was England’s most successful club back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Graeme Souness featured to see the Merseyside outfit emerge as a European heavyweight, sweeping the league title almost every season, and occasionally lifting the European Cup as well. However, once the late ‘90s kicked in, the silverware started to dry out with the Reds conceding the English supremacy to their rivals Manchester United. 

That being said, despite the lack of Premier League championships, there certainly has been no shortage of Liverpool fans in the city of Pune. While a majority of the members of Liverpool Pune Supporters Club are still to oversee a title-winning campaign, they are in love with the club’s ultra-attacking and entertaining brand of football, and have promised to support them through thick and thin. 

LPSC was started on a very strange note, in the year 2011 as its founder Nikhil Nikam was turned down by one of the cafes of the city to screen a Liverpool game as he was the only supporter that had shown an interest in watching the match, and due to the lack of a fan club, the outlet did not find it feasible to screen it. While it was fair on the part of the venue manager, this bit annoyed Nikhil, who then decided to do something about it. 

He said, “I was annoyed by this incident and that pushed me, made me realise that there is need to get all the Liverpool supporters together from the city on a bigger level. It thus gave me an idea of creating a supporters club, and gather a bunch of passionate Reds to jointly watch the matches, and sing the chants of our icons.” 

Their first screening was against age-old rivals Manchester United where they managed to get over fifty fans together and that began the journey of LPSC. Till date, they have conducted nearly a 150 screenings at various locations in the city. Nikhil believes that the excitement of watching a Liverpool game with fellow Reds and the passion and love for the club has helped them grow into an officially recognised fan club. Apart from screenings, activities such as football meets, cycle rides, competitions etc. are organised on a regular basis to instil a feeling of camaraderie among the fellow members. 

FC Barcelona Pune Fan Club or Penya Barcelonista de Pune 

Back in the 2015/16 European season, Yusuf Qamar and Swechchha Agrawal, two hardcore FC Barcelona supporters made a reservation to watch their side take on Arsenal in the Champions League quarterfinals. With two heavyweights of the modern game squaring off against one another, Yusuf and Swechchha expected to have fellow fans in attendance rooting for either of the two sides, but to their disappointment they were the only two football fans in the house that were watching the game. Viewing such a mega clash in complete serenity is what gave the duo an idea to form a supporters club. 

“Watching a Champions League quarterfinal in solitude was certainly not a pleasurable experience for me. So that is where they the idea of a fan club came about as I had friends in similar communities of different clubs, and thought that it would be special to have one that caters solely to Barcelona,” said Yusuf. 

And so the journey began for Barcelona Pune Fan Club. In this modern day and age of social media, Yusuf and Swechchha used platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reach out to fans and as soon as they got in touch with a fan, they immediately added them to a WhatsApp group and requested the new members to commence word of mouth publicity. 

Once they had a decent number of people registered with them, they adopted a unique way of connecting with fans who were oblivious that such a fraternity exists in the city. Yusuf and Swechchha, along with a few other BPFC members approached people on the road and informed them about the supporters club. 

Swechchha gave us an insight about the experience, and said how kind and welcoming the people were. They quickly bought in to the concept of joining the Barcelona fan club and turned up in numbers to cheer their side on in the big games. 

She explained, “Most of the people were taken aback but reacted positively as they were enthusiastic about knowing that there is a fan club here in Pune for them. I have held banners, worn Barcelona jerseys and reassured the fans that this was something more than a club – it was a mini revolution.” 

Despite being active for only one full season, Barcelona Pune Fan Club are on the cusp of receiving official recognition from the Catalan Giants, and will be renamed ‘Penya Barcelonista de Pune’ which translates to Barcelona’s Supporters Club of Pune. 

Like the other fan clubs, the illustrious and popular Aufside Sports Lounge plays host to the screenings of BPFC, and in fact, the recent El Clasico screening between Barcelona and Real Madrid saw over a 1000 people attend – which is the record for any gathered indoor sports screening in the city. The lounge could only accommodate 150 people, while a giant projector was set up on the football turf for the majority of the fans to witness the Spanish footballing spectacle.

Why Aufside and not any other venue? 

Pune is filled with a number of lounges that offer great services to its customers, but why do the fan club heads prefer Aufside? The answer is simple, accommodation is never an ordeal when games are screened there. 

Football is a growing sport in the country, and day by day the game is giving rise to new fans. Due to the meteoric growth in the number of footfalls, lounges often fail to accommodate over a certain number of people. However, just outside Aufside is a fully-netted six-a-side football turf with ample space to fit in over a thousand people. They already have projector screens set up there, and whenever a large audience is expected, the games are screened on the turf. As compared to the top lounges in the city, Aufside is reasonably priced, so people of all ages are seen enjoying the matches as a big and happy family. 

Apart from that, with the owners being football fanatics themselves, they often set up fan days and inter-supporter clubs tournaments to encourage a sense of competition and of course, to build their own brand. Also, with it being extremely close to camp area – one of the city’s popular central hangout destinations, fans do not mind watching games there. Due to this, even games that kick-off in the wee hours of the morning are attended by hundreds of fans as it serves the purpose of being a convenient central location. 

As the majority of the fan clubs have their screenings at Aufside, often the scenario of two matches at the same time arises. For this, the owners ask for an estimated number of attendees to each fan club head, and allot different viewing spots to each of them. For example, if an audience of 150 people is expected, they will watch their match indoor while the crowd of over 500 people will be accommodated on the turf with the big screen and giant speakers in place. 

Adding to all of it, the staff and the owners at Aufside are one of the friendliest and most hospitable people that are willing to help out anyone in need. They maintain a good relationship with every supporters club and join in on the chanting and cheering along with them.

SUMMING IT UP

Manchester United Supporters Club Pune 

-Founded in 2011 

-Applied for official status on 21/07/2017 

Chelsea India Supporters Club Pune 

-Founded in 2010 

-Gained official status immediately 

 

Arsenal Pune Supporters Club  

-Founded in 2010 

-Gained official status in 2016 

 

Liverpool Pune Supporters Club 

-Founded in 2011 

-Gained official status in 2014 

FC Barcelona Pune Fan Club 

-Founded in 2016 

-Expected official status by September 2017