Will Our Fan Culture Go The Hooligan Way Eventually?

I am not sure of the exact minute that the chants began but it was some time after Raphael Augusto slotted the ball beyond Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to put the ISL final to bed. Chennaiyin FC had gone 3-1 up against the home team, Bengaluru FC, and there would be no comeback.

For a couple of minutes after that goal, a hush descended upon the home stands, amplifying the sounds of Chennaiyin’s delighted players and supporters. A few fans then tried to rev up energy levels, to no avail. And as the chances of a revival receded for the home team, frustrations started boiling over in the stands.

“F**K YOU, CHENNAI, F**K YOU!!” kicked things off and it was not long before the referee became a target.

A friend was accompanying me for his first taste of Indian football and I had already told him that the referee and his linesmen would have some choice words heading their way at some point during the game. Which was a shame because the officials in question had a good game, making the correct calls in a high stakes encounter.

All of this is relatively harmless, of course. Fans are entitled to their opinions and are only trying to create an intimidating atmosphere for opposition teams. Some boorish behaviour from a minority of fans is par for the course. As long as it remains that way.

Poor fan behaviour has been around for time immemorial but a few decades back football fans around the world started to organize themselves into groups. Somewhere along the way, some of them started congregating in a specific section of their team’s stadiums. While most fan groups stuck to the brief, which was to provide support to their teams, a few of them involved themselves in violence and hooliganism was born in football.

European and South American football grappled with this problem from the middle of the last century and it has since spread across the world. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the process. India has not been spared. Every time the Kolkata Derby comes around, tensions arise. In 1980, 16 people lost their lives in a stampede triggered by a fight in the stands. Another incident in 2012 saw Mohun Bagan player, Syed Rahim Nabi hit by a brick thrown by a fan in the stands.

It is surely not coincidence that the two most established clubs in the country have been at the centre of crowd violence. As clubs evolve and gain power, so do their fan groups. Across the world, there are numerous instances of fan groups becoming proxies for nationalist, ethnic, socio-economic and political interests. It starts off with free tickets and access from the club and as fans deepen their ties and link their identity to their teams, hooligans are created.

For all the romanticism associated with famous fan groups like the Yellow Wall at Borussia Dortmund, the Kop End at Liverpool, the Stretford End at Manchester United, the Barras Bravas in South America and many others, there are ugly stories that go hand in hand with the storied ones.

As the ISL gains steam, the West Block Blues, Super Machans, Manjapaddas, Orange Army and others have done a great job of mobilizing support for their teams. These groups play an important role in taking Indian football to the masses and there is a lot of effort put into creating great atmospheres at stadiums.

The danger lies when fanbases get hardcore and while poor behaviour is limited to insults on social media and at the grounds for now, how long before punches get exchanged or a life is lost? For all the good intentions of most fans in a crowd, mobs sometimes take a life of their own and this is something for these ever evolving fan groups to mull over.

It only takes one rotten egg.

Image Credit – Pinterest

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