Bangladesh are playing Afghanistan in the third and final T20I in Dehradun. With the series already out of reach, the visitors have nothing but pride to play for. The body language of the players in the warm-up session doesn’t give a positive signal. However, one voice continues to spur them on with vociferous energy. “Come on Bangladesh,” shouts Fahimul Hoque Milon, aka ‘Tiger Milon’ from the North Pavillion stand of the Rajeev Gandhi International cricket stadium. Tiger Milon is one of the most recognizable superfans among cricket lovers primarily due to his bright yellow Tiger-print face paint. But fulfilling an unconventional dream of being a superfan is one full of obstacles with a constant desire to just give up. For Milon, his journey as a superfan is much like his other sub-continental counterparts, one which involves struggles, disagreements with family before finally getting recognized for the unending passion for cricket and country. Today after having crossed those hurdles, all he wants is to continue supporting his team with religious zeal and also be the catalyst to improve relations between fans of India and Bangladesh.
Stairway to stardom
Milon’s tryst as a superfan began in 2011 when Bangladesh took on West Indies at Mirpur’s Sher e Bangla Stadium during the 2011 World Cup. While the home team succumbed to a bitter defeat on the day, his infectious enthusiasm at the stadium grabbed the attention of one and all. Since then he has travelled to each of Bangladesh’s World Cup fixtures and is now even recognized by members of the Bangladesh cricket team. In the 2017 Champions Trophy, Milon was even adjudged as the number one fan in the tournament by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Today his widespread popularity is also visible on social media, which continues to play an important role in increasing his fan base. “Several people come and talk to me only to click selfies. But I think social media, is an important tool as it has brought me recognition across the globe,” Milon remarked.
Travel on your own dime
Tiger Milon’s mode of fandom is not everyone’s cup of tea as his journey has been anything but easy. On several occasions, he has had to fork out money from his own pockets to travel the world and cheer for Bangladesh. There have been days when he has had to go without a meal or a proper bed to sleep. But all of this has not come in the way of his never-ending support for his national team. “Initially, my family was also against my wishes and I had to sponsor myself. It was one of the most difficult phases of my life. But today my parents have realized that I do it only for my country and not to garner fame and money,” Milon said. Recognizing his efforts, last year, Milon finally found a sponsor from Bangladesh and today can at least afford a place for shelter wherever he goes.
Spreading the love, changing perceptions
Cricket is a common thread between the people of India and Bangladesh. However, in recent times the relationship between fans of both the countries has taken a hit as animosity between the two is well-known. While fans in India have a feeling that Bangladesh fans lack respect for Indian players, the view from the other side has been similar in nature. However, according to Milon that is not the case and it is all about emotions. “Maybe they go a bit overboard but I want to spread the message of love amidst supporters of both the countries.” Recalling the incident in 2015, when India’s superfan Sudhir Gautam was attacked in Bangladesh, Milon says that it still continues to hurt him till date. “It was a really painful incident and that should not have happened. India’s Sudhir and Ram Babu, Sri Lanka’s Gayan Senanayake and I share a good rapport. There is no question of rivalry between us as we have forged a healthy friendship amongst ourselves,” Milon says and hopes that it will serve as an example to build better relations between fans of both the countries.