The beautiful game is growing in the subcontinent, as the Indian national football team climbs the steps of the FIFA World Rankings ladder. One of the big advantages of the growing popularity is that the national team now has its own dedicated fan club – the Blue Pilgrims.
The Blue Pilgrims came into prominence during the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year, when over 850 fans travelled to New Delhi to watch India’s group stage matches.
Now, the India faithful, who had unfurled a giant ‘blue tiger’ tifo at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai during the Intercontinental Cup, are all set to unite the fans of different clubs across the land, to support the national team.
“Sunil Chhetri’s message during the Intercontinental Cup certainly helped bring a lot of fans to the galleries, but we have been campaigning to get more fans to support the Indian football team for long before that,” said another member of the Blue Pilgirms.
““I was myself involved in screening the FIFA U-17 World Cup matches last year. We got a lot of response from the fans back then,” he continued. “Our objective is to have enough fans present in the stands whenever India play a match – be it at home or away.”
While many fans may not be able to travel to Suzhou for a one-off international friendly between India and China, the Blue Pilgrims have arranged for a number of screenings, which will take place across different cities.
The screenings of the China vs India match will be held across six cities in India – Bengaluru, New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Guwahati, and Kohlapur.
“We already have a culture in India, where people get together at pubs and watch sports. But that does not happen as often when the Indian football team plays an international match,” says a member of the Blue Pilgrims.
But how does one go about garnering football fans in a land where cricket and kabaddi are much more popular? The Blue Pilgrims believe that the national team fan club’s effort to bring the fans of the different football teams in the top leagues of the country could be a way.
“We are coordinating with different supporter clubs to arrange screenings of the China-India game across the country. We want to change that, and bring people together to support our footballers,” says he.
“We already have so many people going to screenings of the Manchester United or Real Madrid. We need to get more fans to take an interest in the Indian national team matches. This is one way we can increase the popularity of football in India,” he said.
“Not only have we teamed up with the supporter clubs of different ISL and I-League teams, but we have also tied up with the supporter clubs of different European teams, for this.”
The Asian Dream
While supporting the Blue Tigers from pubs across India is one way of bringing football fans in India under one banner, the Blue Pilgrims have a different long-term objective. India have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in eight years and will be participating in the tournament in January 2019 in the United Arab Emirates.
The Indian team has been drawn against UAE, Thailand and Bahrain, in a group that does not look too out of the reach for coach Stephen Constantine and his men.
The Blue Pilgrims plan to take a sizeable contingent to the Middle-Eastern country in January to give that bit of extra support to the team.
“We are planning on sending our fans to UAE for the AFC Asian Cup next year,” said one of the members. “As of now, around a 100 people have signed up for that, but we want to get as many fans on-board that flight, as possible. So these screenings are a good way of spreading awareness.”
The effort of the Blue Pilgrims have certainly been a huge boon for the national team, who are determined to progress step-by-step in the footballing ladder. Their next stepping stone will be in at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre, where they face off against China at 5.05pm IST, on Saturday, October 13.