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One love, many clubs

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Sat, May 05, 2012 18:40 hrs

When Steven Gerrard led out his team, Liverpool, at Wembley stadium, a loud roar went up at the Spirit Bar in the inner circle of Connaught Place. A group of 20 fans dressed in their Liverpool jerseys, carrying flags, sang the club’s famous anthem, “You Will Never Walk Alone”. Most of these fans are part of Delhi Kop, a city-based fan club of Liverpool. It is named after the iconic stand in Anfield, where Liverpool play their home games in the English Premier League.

Founded by Anirudh Chauhan, a die-hard Liverpool fan since 1998, Delhi Kop boasts hundreds of members. Its official Facebook page has over 3,600 “likes”. Chauhan, like most of his brethren, eats, sleeps and breathes the red of Liverpool. “It’s more than a passion for us,” he says, “so we try to get as many like-minded fans together.”

Names like Ian Callaghan, Roger Hunt, Ian St. John might not ring a bell for “ordinary” football fans, but to these Liverpool fans, they are legends. “We are proud of our history,” says Chauhan. There are no eligibility criteria for this club, but you do have to share the passion. Members often ask on the official Facebook page, for example, about carpooling to club events.

Liverpool is not the only club to have a big fan base in the city. Their arch-rivals, Manchester United, boast the largest fan base in the city, perhaps even in the country. While Liverpool fans tend to brush off United fans as “glory hunters”, United fans laugh at such suggestions. “Manchester United are more than a club for us,” says Shashank Jain, a 23-year-old software engineer in Gurgaon who has followed Manchester United for 12 years.

There is a Manchester United Supporters Club, too, whose members get together at pubs and bars. They invite other members over Facebook to watch matches together. “It’s always better to see matches with fans. You get to learn from them and share the passion,” says Jain. And, of course, if their team wins, it becomes a giant party. Fans make it a point not to miss the screenings. Manchester United fans gather at the Manchester United Cafe and Bar in Vasant Vihar for most match screenings.

The city now has several sports bars, like Underdoggs in Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, or The Sports Bar in Noida’s Great India Place. They are ideal venues for fan club members. “For a big match, we get a lot of calls from supporters to organise screenings,” says the manager of The Sports Bar, Noida.

These fan clubs do not charge any membership fees. “Why should we?” asks Chauhan. However, the Arsenal Supporters Club in Delhi does have a nominal membership fee, and with this money they have bought and registered a domain name for their club website. Some of the money also goes into buying merchandise like an official flag, which is often given as a prize for the quizzes the club organises. The Arsenal Supporters Club’s favourite haunt for screenings is Route 04 in Khan Market, or Connaught Place.

The idea remains the same: to bring together fans who have a passion for their favourite clubs. When a screening is organised at a pub or bar, the fan club ties up with the establishment to get drinks and food at a discount. Giant screens are also set up at bars for a better viewing experience. Members pick up their own tab at bars.

“We get easily about 40 people at such gatherings,” says Chauhan. There are no rules but one: fans of rival clubs are not welcome. One Facebook invite for the FA Cup Final has a postscript which states, “No Chelsea fans invited.” “It’s not as if there will be 1970s-style English football hooliganism — but it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are instances when banter between rivals went over the top,” says Chauhan.

Apart from getting together for screenings, Delhi Kop also organises football days — ideally on Sundays — when members meet to play football in a park. The last football day was organised in March at India Gate. “It’s a good day out in the sun and we all have fun playing the game,” says Chauhan.

It’s not an all-boys’ club either. Several women are also members. Age, too, is no bar, though most members are in their 20s. Delhi Kop has written to the football club to get “official” fan club status from Liverpool Football Club. “We hope to get the recognition,” says Chauhan. Even if they do not, their passion will not diminish.



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