On Friday night, enthusiastic fans, dressed in different shades of red, some draped in Spanish and Portuguese flags, chanted and hooted to the names of Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta. Several big-screen projections across Mumbai are temporarily changing their façade to accommodate the emerging fan groups of football.
Friday’s game arranged in an open area of Phoenix Market city, Lower Parel, had people on the edge of their seats, with a few Spanish fans running around the area in a victory lap when Spain went up 3-2, only to witness a third Portuguese goal sending almost everyone else into a frenzy. Dhruv Kharabanda, an avid Argentina supporter from Jalandhar present at the screening, said, “(Lionel) Messi is way better than Ronaldo, so I’m here just to back the Spanish team against Ronaldo.”
The FIFA World Cup is famous for garnering a sense of loyalty among Indians — from a shopkeeper in Kolkata painting his shop in the colours of the Argentine national team jersey to a person painting his house in the Brazilian yellow, green and blue. The excitement is especially being felt by various football fan associations here.
Neil Chheda, branch secretary of the Liverpool Fan Club (LFC) Mumbai, started the first screening on Friday for fans to watch the Spain versus Portugal game. “We will be screening a lot of World Cup games,” he said. The fan club organises the LFC Mumbai League which happens round the year. Its members range from students to corporate employees.
“This year, apart from screening, we will ensure involvement around the game because it’s a great break for the members of our groups,” he adds.
It’s not just the Liverpool fan club. Andre Rodriguez, a member of the Chelsea Fan Association, explained how their group tries to recreate the stadium experience when screening big matches. “A lot of people cannot afford to travel to actually watch these matches and so these screenings are meant for them. Just like in a stadium, fans here cheer for their team when we have a joint screening with other clubs, so we get the feel of a stadium,” he said.
He added that their association is completely about the fans and their love for football, and this World Cup they will try new things to keep fans engaged in discussions about the teams.
“There has been an increase in the following for the sport nationwide. For the final (of the Intercontinental Cup) we organised a screening where we had a turnout of 50-60 people,” said Philarima Mynniewta, a member of the Indian Football Team Fan Association.
He added that efforts are under way to consolidate a support group for the Indian national team in their effort to qualify for the next World Cup. With the recently concluded Intercontinental Cup, an atmosphere of excitement in support of India’s national team has also developed. Fan clubs have started emerging in support of the Indian team.