Table of Contents
Football and other sports which are being played at the professional level often attract spectators in huge numbers turning many of them into loyalists who turn out every week to support their favorite side playing their hearts out against the opposition.
Rise of the Ultras
Football Ultras is a term that originated in Italy referring to the fanatical supporters who are known for vocal chanting, singing club anthems, and using smoke bombs, especially for tifo choreography.
If we talk about India, the subcontinent has always been a pivot for hardcore fans. Indian football has a vast and rich history. From 1951 to 1962, the football of the subcontinent reached prestigious heights.
However, the last couple of decades in the 20th century were full of distress for football teams as well as the fans. Despite difficult times, the fans never stopped supporting the Indian national football team. Moreover, with the inception of the Indian Super League, a new wave of supporters took over the national football equation.
The Indian Super League started with a set of new football clubs which were unknown to the fans. However, with the association of famous celebrities and renowned footballers, the league became the next big thing in Indian football.
Especially, the popularity of Chennaiyin, Atletico de Kolkata, and Kerala Blasters was unparalleled during a specific time period. However, they never managed to leave behind the acclaim received by Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, who then also became a part of the top-tier football league.
One of the biggest rivalries in Indian football is between Mohun Bagan and EBFC, and the match between the two clubs is known as the Kolkata Derby. The first match between the two sides was played in 1921 and the fans have since then turned out in huge numbers to support the team.
In 1997, during the semi-final of the Indian Federation Cup, a staggering sum of 131,781 fans turned up to watch the ‘Boro Match’ at the Salt Lake Stadium between the two Kolkata-based sides. It is a rivalry that has also been mentioned in FIFA’s official list of Classic Rivalries
Fan Clubs and Flags
Fan clubs are a huge part of football as the game is never complete without the fans and Indian football has been blessed with everything from huge tifos to loud cheers.
In November 2006, India’s first registered fan club, East Bengal the Real Power was founded by Rabi Shankar Sen. Initially starting as a fan club, East Bengal the Real Power also organizes tournaments for children and U19 football coaching camp.
The fan club has a presence on almost all the social media platforms and it also has more than 150,000 members. With the motto of “Born to Win”, the fan club organizes flag-hoisting events for East Bengal in more than 50 Indian cities and 50 other cities all over the world.
After East Bengal the Real Power, Manjappada is the second largest registered fan club in India. The supporters’ group was formed in May 2014 in Kochi by the fans of Kerala Blasters. Manjappada was introduced in 2014 via a Facebook page. In just the inaugural season of the ISL, Kerala Blasters had an average attendance of 49,000, a then-record.
Slowly expanding through different social media platforms, Manjappada currently has branches in 12 different Indian states. Moreover, last season, they displayed a 11752 sq ft tifo during the Kerala Blasters’ game, which was the biggest in Asia. Manjappada’s flag consists of the same blue and yellow colour theme as Kerala Blasters with an elephant in the middle.
Another famous supporters’ club in India is the West Block Blues, which has always come forward to support Bengaluru at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium as well as at other venues. The West Block Blues’ presence in the stadium always makes the Kantaveera bounce with passion and loud cheers often intimidating away sides, which are not used to such an atmosphere.
FC Goa Fan Club, Supermachans, West Coast Brigade, and The Highlander Brigade are some of the other ISL clubs’ supporters unions which are often seen in the stands vocally chanting for their respective clubs.
Beyond the Game
Fans are one of the most important parts of any sport. Teams as well as the coaching staff get to make money because of the supporters who always visit their games and buy their merchandise.
Nevertheless, other than the money-making perspective, fans also help players by providing them with an extra boost of motivation and energy on the playing field. Even if a player is having a bad game, fans can help the athlete by boosting their morale with positive cheers. The cheering and positive chants give a mental advantage to the team during the match.
Moreover, sports enthusiasts have always been familiar with the concept of home advantage. When a team plays a series or a tournament on their home soil, they always have an edge over the opponent in terms of familiarity with the ground as well as support from the spectators.
In addition to these factors, clubs with stronger fanbase also attract a lot of media attention which further helps the football club in spreading news and updates from the club’s end as the club’s outreach channel is not available for many fans due to several reasons.
Moreover, supporting a team also gives the fans a sense of belonging, which plays a major role in the short-term as well as long-term success of a football club. Several fans are using their football club emblems in birthday and wedding anniversary photographs to commemorate their love for their favorite football club.
Curbing the Chaos
Fans play a major role in boosting the morale of different teams. Home supporters as well as travelling fans are equally important for any football club irrespective of the tournament. However, sometimes the boon turns into a scary bane. Being a fan and supporting a football club or a national football team wholeheartedly is important as well as a great feeling for a supporter.
Nevertheless, on a few occasions, the home advantage turns into excessive pressure to win for a team as the support of the die-hard fans always comes with a cost for the athletes, which is the pressure of performing well on the big stage. A series of unsatisfactory results can lead to backlash from the fans, which holds the potential of breaking anyone.
Another negative aspect of having a huge fan base is ‘Extremism’, which is never a good feeling to have in any aspect of life. Moreover, at many junctures, it has also resulted in fueling lethal fights between the fans of different teams.
Ultras often become violent and indulge in hooliganism, which is a big evil in modern football, especially in Europe where several hooligans have been punished in the recent past, but the actions of such supporters don’t seem to go away any time soon.
Football Lover’s Day is observed on August 16 every year as thousands of football fans donate blood in memory of 16 fans who lost their lives in a stampede caused by a riot during the ill-fated Kolkata Derby at the Eden Gardens in 1980.
The referee of that match, Sudhin Chatterjee sent off two players, Dilip Patit and Bidesh Ranjan Bose which caused an uproar from both sets of supporters and a riot broke out in the stadium.
Many fans jumped off from the stands onto the concrete floors to avoid the stampede and hundreds were left injured in the aftermath of the evening which saw Kolkata hospitals flooded with people coming from the stadiums.
In the aftermath of the incident, multiple stadiums in Kolkata were renovated in the 1980s including the Eden Gardens and the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Kirirangan was also established so both sets of fans could be seated separately without hassle.