Indian LFC fan Swagatam Banerjee explains why he has turned his back on the 'religion' of cricket in his country to passionately support Rafael Benitez's Reds from afar in this week's 'LFC Letter From..' column.
a letter from, India
26th May, 2005 3:00 am IST
“Keep quiet!! You will wake up the whole neighbourhood!”
Did we care? Of course not. Our beloved club had just been crowned the Kings of Europe for a remarkable fifth time. It was almost 3am in India but for us, it was the dawn of a new beginning.
As a hapless Shevchenko saw his penalty saved by Jerzy Dudek, we were screaming with delight and jumping about all over the house. Our sleepy neighbourhood in Calcutta had no right to sleep while history was being made! Believe it or not, my friend, an ardent supporter of Everton (a big flaw, I know!!), called all the way from Bombay, “Swagatam, it’s a miracle!” Even a die-hard Everton fan like him had been mesmerised by the display of commitment and courage that was the hallmark of our team that night. We realised that this was to be the beginning of a new era, the resurgence we had all been waiting for. It would serve as a platform for more achievements in the future.
13th May, 2006 10:15 pm IST
It was Istanbul all over again. We had just witnessed one of the best FA Cup Finals and Liverpool had emerged winners thanks to our Captain Marvel Steven Gerrard. We had not expected West Ham to provide such stiff competition but as is often seen in football, they had raised their level for the historical occasion. Compounded with the problems due to injury and cramps, it had proved a tough fight for Liverpool but the players had shown their mettle. Calls poured in from various friends all over the country and we had a really good time chatting on the net throughout the night discussing the drama that had unfolded at the Millennium Stadium.
In our country, cricket has always been considered a religion. All of us grew up loving the game and learning the intricacies by watching and playing cricket. It has changed to some extent now because of the recent coverage of other sports on TV but cricket still remains the predominant favourite among Indians.
There has been a recent shift towards football also. Some of us have given up following cricket completely and have jumped onto the football bandwagon. The biggest problem in our country is the sorry state of Indian football. Until and unless a sport becomes popular locally, it is very difficult to popularise it on a mass scale. There is a huge scope for development of the game in our country and having realised that, we try to contribute as much as we can through our non-commercial website www.indianfootball.com
. But there is still a long way to go.
During the late 90’s, ESPN and STAR SPORTS introduced India to the magic of European football with their telecast of the English Premier League, Spanish Primera Liga and the UEFA Champions’ League. EPL was received with the greatest enthusiasm because of its visual appeal and also the convenient timings of the matches – weekend evenings are the best time to watch football.
Soon, all of us were talking about the quality of club football in Europe and the amazing amount of skill on display. The only international football we had witnessed till then comprised the World Cups and the European Championships. One tournament every two years was never sufficient to quench our thirst.
Mondays were the best because we would discuss the weekend matches at school. After a few months, the time came to pick our favourite teams. Due to time constraints and academic pressure, we could not watch all the EPL matches. I still can’t remember how I became a Liverpool fan. I guess it just sort of happened; maybe I was destined to be a Liverpool supporter (and THANK GOD for that!!). I realised this was one team which I had to follow. No other team struck the chords of my heart as much as Liverpool FC did.
Also, the fans were a major reason for my support. The crowds in India are very passionate and vociferous and the loud singing and cheers emanating from the stands at Anfield was something I could easily identify with. So my bond with Liverpool FC started during my school days and sometimes I wonder how I could have lived without becoming a Liverpool fan!
The strange feature of EPL club rivalries in India is that most of the fans are of the top four teams – Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. (There are some fans of teams like Everton and Leeds, when they were in the EPL, but their number is statistically negligible.) Another strange characteristic is that about 50% of the fans change their club loyalties as per the league standings. While that may sound blasphemous from where you are reading this, it is a prominent feature of crowd support in India. They always want to be on the side of the winner. Consequently, there has been a recent upsurge in the number of Chelsea fans. In fact, after the Champions’ League victory, I was quite surprised to see some critics turn into Liverpool fans! As there is nothing loyal fans like us can do about those supporters, we just try to ignore them.
As with any other country that follows the EPL, we look forward eagerly to the matches between the top four teams. The biggest rivalry is between Liverpool and Manchester United, followed closely by Liverpool versus Chelsea. We know about the great rivalry between Liverpool and Everton and the history behind it but maybe due to a scarcity of Everton fans in India, matches against Manchester United are the biggest ones for us.
Even with the disappointing away record we have started the season with, I believe we are still in the race. With a new strike force, amazing wingers, a remarkable midfield, a good defence, an inspirational captain and a manager par excellence, we will definitely overcome the effects of the early hiccups of the season; and a victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford this Sunday will certainly be a fabulous way to start!