Founded in 2017 in Wolverhampton, England, Punjabi Spurs is one of the official fan club of this year’s Champions League finalists, Tottenham Hotspur. It is the first Asian-British fan club of an England club. Josh Sandhu, chairman of Punjabi Spurs, was in Chandigarh, along with Argentinean legend, Ossie Ardiles. Sandhu, in conversation with Nitin Sharma, talks about the football culture in England, existing as a Punjabi fan club in England, views about Chandigarh and Punjab football and the emergence of Indian football players like Yan Dhanda and Danny Batth in England.
Tell us about the origin of Punjabi Spurs and what led to beginning of the club?
Football is very popular among the Asian community in England. Almost every fan follows a football club. We came with the idea of forming Punjabi Spurs, a Punjabi community of supporters of eight-time FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur. Our idea was to promote football culture among the Asian community and also make a connection with India in terms of football training and coaching. At first, there were 5-6 members, but now we have more than 100 registered members, apart from 200 regular members. As one of the 200 fan clubs in the world for Tottenham Hotspur, we attend every match of the club to showcase our support. The club runs on membership fee from members and funding from Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham Hotspur have showed a lot of support to our fan club as well. One month after we founded Punjabi Spurs, a bhangra group performed for the first time during half-time during a premier league match against Bournemouth. Our members hail from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many fans hail from West Punjab in Pakistan as well. We are Tottenham Hotspur fans first and then of any region.
Punjabi Spurs conducted a football tournament in Chandigarh last week. What was the idea behind the tournament and your views about football as a sport in Chandigarh?
One of the idea behind formation of the fan club was also to connect with our Punjabi roots and support the game here as well. In countries like England, there is a football culture and young kids between 5-6-years of age, start playing football. Eight-year-old players can be signed by junior teams of the clubs. They spend their time in training apart from studies and that’s one of the reasons for popularity and success of football in countries like England. During last week’s Punjabi Spurs tournament in Chandigarh, more than 500 players competed. In countries like England, temperature range from 5 degree to 35 degree Celsius and weather is suitable for outdoor sports like football. Here, kids play in temperatures ranging between 40-45 degree Celsius. That describes their passion and the kind of effort they put in. What India lacks is proper training methods at junior level and adequate coaching programmes. Once that happens, football culture will develop more in this country. One of the reasons we brought Ossie Ardiles, a member of 1978 FIFA World Cup winning Argentina team and former Tottenham Hotspur player, was that players can learn from him and know more about his journey from a small village to now.
Tottenham Hotspur reached the Champions final this year and lost the title to Liverpool. How was the experience of following the finalists this season and did Punjabi Spurs fans see the match at the stadium in Spain?
We have followed the team throughout the season and I have attended most f the matches. We make sure that some members are present in every match. It was a superb run by the club before they lost to Liverpool in the finals. With Liverpool fans attending in large numbers, Tottenham Hotspur fans had to make arrangements to watch the match. More than 30 members of Punjabi Spurs travelled to Madrid to watch the finals. We took a flight to a nearby city and then drove for more than five hours to Madrid. To support your team in a stadium is what every fan aspires for.
Punjabi origin players like Danny Batth and Yan Dhanda have played for English clubs in recent years. Do you view them as role models for Indian football as well the Asian community in England?
The football community has been very supportive of Asian-origin footballers and players in junior leagues as well senior leagues. There are junior leagues happening in almost every city and there are many Asian-origin clubs that compete in local tournaments as well. Players like Danny Batth and Yan Dhanda have also come through this system and have played for junior academies of European clubs. Danny has been a good friend of mine and he has been a role model for young footballers. Seeing such players excel at the premier league level motivates other Asian-origin youngsters. They are role models for the Asian community and a lot of football players in India as well.