FIFA fever grips Delhi: Fans root for ‘adopted’ teams

The is barely days away and even though the Indian team is not a part of it, Indian football fans are eagerly awaiting the biggest single-sport tournament in the world. According to figures from broadcasters, more than 100 million Indians watched the 2014 World Cup on TV and the number is expected to only go higher this time. In the absence of a home team to support, most Indian football crazies have adopted their own ‘second home teams’. Gurgaon-based software engineer and Spain supporter Deepak Yadav says, “We, Indians, are lucky that we get to choose our favourite teams and we do that over time, carefully. It would, of course, be great to have India play in the World Cup and rally behind them but till that happens, we all have our own teams.” The absence of a home team, however, does not indicate that Indians just casually support their favourite teams. These fandoms are devout. Most fans do not change their favourite teams every World Cup. We take a look at what makes Delhi’s fans such devout supporters of football teams representing nations from seven seas across. From favourite player to favourite league, from supporting the underdogs to continuing the family tradition, the reasons why Delhiites are rooting for their adopted teams are varied.

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‘Because my favourite player plays for this team’
For some, the reason to support a team is because their favourite player is in it. Gurgaon resident Ashwini Singh explains, “I started supporting Argentina as a kid because I was mesmerised by Diego Maradona. He is the best footballer I have seen. But even after his retirement, I continued to support the team – first through the Hernán Crespo era and now through Lionel Messi’s reign. What I like about the team is that they bring the South American flavour to the game but are never as heavily favoured as . But yes, I have continued supporting them because my two favourite players of all time – Maradona and Messi – have been Argentines.”

Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)

‘I like the team’s style of play’
On the other end of the spectrum are fans who say players are immaterial and they support a team for its style or gameplay. Twenty-four-year-old lawyer Sahil Dhawan is a Spain fan, not because of the players, but because of how the team plays its football. “I like their tiki taka style of play. They simply take the game to another level. Their style of play is attractive and very interesting. I do like the players too but they are secondary. I support Spain because I like the team and how they play their football,” says Sahil.

CHEERING OUT LOUD!

‘I inherited this fandom from my family’
Many inherit their favourite team from family members, seeing their older generation support a particular team since their childhood. “Among Bengalis, it is almost mandatory to support Brazil,” says CR Park resident Srishti Das, “But I have been a Germany supporter ever since I can remember. This is because my father was always a huge Germany fan and he passed this passion to me. He was a goalkeeper himself and really liked the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn (who played from 1987 to 2008). We would watch games together when I was a kid and always support Germany. I stayed in Spain for a while but could never support them because I can just see Germany as my team.”

Manuel Neuer (Germany)

‘Graduated from watching EPL to supporting England’
Many fans say that watching a particular football league over the years has made them like a particular style and culture of football. So the fans swear by the England team while for the La Liga fans, Spain is the numero uno team, and so on. Noida resident Sakshi Arora says, “I have always preferred English football because I ardently follow the English Premier League. So even though the England team has hardly won any major tournament in the last 50 years, I still find that team more likable than others. It’s also to do with a particular type of gameplay and culture that the team has. It’s very similar to the one I appreciate. Other teams look like outsiders. As a kid, most of my favourite Premier League stars were England players – Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney among others. So, it just stuck.”

Lot of support for underdogs
Since the likes of Brazil, Argentina, France and Germany have been dominating world football for decades, fans feel that it’s refreshing to support newer teams, the underdogs. Saket resident Syed Nabeel, who works in the telecom sector, says, “Even though I like Brazil and Italy, I could never support them in the World Cup. They have enough fans already. They are football giants. I started supporting Belgium around eight years ago, during the 2010 World Cup, because at that time, they were the underdogs, with a young, new team. Over the years, as it so happened, my favourite players – Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard – also emerged from Belgium, and my support for them has remained. I feel this is their best chance to win the World Cup.”

When there are two favourite teams
A lot of fans say they are often conflicted between two teams and while they want both the teams to do well, once they face each other, they know who their ‘real’ favourite is. Richa Sharma, who is pursuing M.Phil from JNU, says “My head says Germany but heart says Brazil. I had always been a Brazil supporter but I liked some German players like Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Later, I realised I also liked when the German team won, just not against Brazil though. The thing with international football is you can never support a national team just because you like a player or two. That can work for clubs, but for national teams, you need a deeper connect. Like, I find Messi very good but not the whole Argentinean team.”

Harry Kane (England)

‘We are not just fair-weather supporters’
Supporting India in , hockey, or even football is easy, as it is a natural extension of patriotism for many. So, even if the team does not do well over a period of time, you support it since it’s your own country. But what makes these football fans stick to their adopted countries’ teams even through rough weather? “When you start supporting a team as a kid, you form a bond with them which is not very different from how you feel for your own national team. So, it doesn’t matter if your team isn’t performing well. You will still back them. Brazil was thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the last World Cup, but I still proudly called them my team,” replies 27-year-old Saket resident Shivashish, who has been a die-hard Brazil fan since he was in class IV.
And these fans say that even the knowledge that their team will not win the Cup this year does not sway their loyalties. Rakshita Sharma, a student who lives in Noida, says, “I support the Netherlands but they didn’t qualify this time. So for me, it is a fight between Germany, Belgium and France this time. But I will continue to support Netherlands in all their games in future. It’s my team. Once Netherlands plays again, I will be back in their camp.”

A shot from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier showing Neymar (Brazil) struggling for the ball with Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina) during a match between the two countries

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