Sony’s ad campaign for their 2018 FIFA World Cup in India features the hashtag #MeriDoosriCountry, meaning My Second Country. That should be a matter of shame for Indian football fans. Who would want to have a second country? We want our country, our India to be there, with all the best players in the world, in the world’s biggest footballing spectacle.
The rise in popularity of football in India over the past few years has been nothing short of meteoric, but it is important that the popularity spreads to actual Indian football, and not just the adoration for a little Argentine or a Portuguese machine or an Egyptian King.
“We’ve got Sunil Chhetri”. Those are words that are belted out with conviction from the West Block stand and with frequency in Bangalore, whenever the Indian national team or Bengaluru FC strides out on to the field at the Kanteerava Stadium. As a fan of Indian football, nothing would give me more joy than to have many more Sunil Chhetris, that we all can adore from the stands.
But then, it is up to us to ensure that kids in this country find football attractive. No one is going to find a sport attractive when there are more flies and mosquitos in a stadium than human beings – as has been the case with Indian football for a while now. A fan revolution was needed – we believe the Blue Pilgrims can herald that revolution.
The idea behind the Blue Pilgrims was nothing too radical. In October, an Indian team was going to play in a FIFA competition for the first time ever – with a bunch of kids striding out at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, to represent the country at the U-17 World Cup. There was a bunch of people from across the nation who thought there could be nothing better than to travel to Delhi together, and cheer the boys on. It is underestimated what a difference the fans make, we want to create that difference.
It wasn’t easy to come together for the tournament. We started preparing for it a year in advance. Different fan clubs from across the country had to be urged to put aside the differences that club football had created, and come together for the national team in a World Cup. Even though the vision was to carry forward this movement to all other Indian National Football teams, but it was a blind start, with no idea of what the future held, but when I saw the numbers eventually, it was the most satisfying feeling. And I knew we’ve accomplished something special.
From Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kerala and from all the major Football fan clubs of ISL & I League teams, there were 400 Blue Pilgrims who’d travelled for India’s World Cup opener against the USA, and the number rose to 550 and 850 for the subsequent games against Colombia and Ghana respectively. We will never forget Jackson Singh’s scintillating header to the cross supplied by Sanjeev Stalin. That happened right in front of where we were chanting our hearts out from. This was also the first ever world cup goal scored by an Indian in any age format; something we can tell our grandkids about.
We travelled in large numbers to Goa last November too, to support the Senior Team in the Asian Cup qualifier against Myanmar.
All in all, the idea is to replicate the same support that we give to our respective football clubs with our chants, banners & our energy and extended it to the Indian National football team.
We will be in Mumbai from June 1, as well to support the senior National team in the Intercontinental Cup. Wherever any Indian national team, men or women, senior or junior, plays, we want to be there.
One of the main visions is to build a traveling fan culture, a community of football fans across the country. We’re using a social media hashtag #BedsForTravellingFans so that whoever can help other travelling fans get accommodation in the host city is able to step in. So, if you are travelling to Mumbai to support India, please get in touch with us through our social media.
That is why next year’s AFC Asian Cup in the UAE is going to be a huge event – our vision is to take at least 300 Indian supporters across the Arabian Sea, to back the Blues when Chhetri leads them out on Asia’s biggest footballing stage.
For Chhetri and coach Stephen Constantine, the preparation for that tournament begins in earnest this Friday in Mumbai, with the Intercontinental Cup. We will be there, of course, trying to spread the revolution, before the UAE can be taken over. #AndheriPeMilna, we say, in response to Sony’s #MeriDoosriCountry. Because I don’t have a Doosri Country. My Pehli, Doosri, Teesri and Aakhri country is India.
So, on Friday, let’s all meet at Andheri, at the Mumbai Football Arena. We will be in GS4 & GS5 stands in full voice with our banners and tricolour backing our boys. Join us. Join the revolution! There’s only one goal – Inquilab-e-Indian-Football.
By Team Blue Pilgrims.