Months after FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League frenzy grips India

Growing fan base for European football leagues in India


March 21, 2023

/ By / New Delhi

Months after FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League frenzy grips India

Football match screening in Delhi

Three months after the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, another wave of football mania has gripped football fans in India. This time it’s Europe’s most glamorous football competition, the UEFA Champions League, which is in its knockout stage. A growing number of Indian fan clubs of major European football clubs have emerged on the Indian football scene.

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Growing up as a football supporter in a nation where cricket is the most popular sport is daunting. Yet there is no denying that the number of Indians who watch the game  have increased significantly over the past 10 years.

Nowadays, it is normal to see supporters of nearly all the top European football clubs sporting their favorite team jerseys with pride on the  streets of major Indian towns. Not content with wearing their fan-status on their sleeves, some of the fans have gone ahead and formed fan clubs of some of the top European league teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, and Real Madrid, which have been recognised by these respective clubs.

One such fan club is “Madridista Delhi”, founded by Afsar Khan, who is a die-hard fan of Spanish giants Real Madrid, a club that he has been following since 2004.

“Growing up, I always admired European football and the Champions League,” Khan tells Media India Group. Khan works in a technology firm and runs the football fan club for Real Madrid club which hosts multiple match screenings and fan meet-up events for its members. He says that his club has grown over the years and offers a platform to fans of the Spanish club.

“Everyone here feels part of a larger community. People come here to make friends and cheer for their club,” he adds.

Khan adds that he gets around 50–60 supporters on average for matchday screening and that these numbers have increased after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Cafés and pubs in India, including those in Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, and New Delhi, have welcomed football fans, and some even display games late into the night.

India has a huge fan base when it comes to the UEFA Champions League, which features popular clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. Over the years, viewership of Champions League matches has increased rapidly in India. Tapping the growing popularity football is a television broadcaster, Sony Network, which broadcasts UEFA Champions League matches in India.

The broadcaster has launched a campaign centered around the Champions League are titled, ‘Sona Mana Hai’, it is based on the theme of ‘fear of missing out’ Over the past years, the network has been reaching out to fans, inviting new football legends such as Spanish football legend Luis Gracia and Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri to serve as commentators for broadcasts. To broaden the fan base in India and reach out to the masses, the channel has also added Hindi commentary for Champions League games.

Rishabh Girdhar, who works as manager in a PR firm, manages LFC Delhi, which is a fan club recognised by Liverpool Football Club in England. He organizes regular gatherings for the members of the fan club. “On a regular weekend, we get about 120 dedicated fans for a match day, and the bar we have a tie-up with provides us with drinks and food,’’ Girdhar tells Media India Group.

He adds that there are many fan clubs of different European clubs all across the country: “The fan culture here is inspired by Europe; it may not be as intense but is certainly growing. It is a magical environment here and you will feel like you are sitting in a pub in Liverpool or Manchester,’’ he adds. “A decade ago, no one would have imagined the scale at which Indian people support European football clubs today, and in time to come, it will outgrow cricket in India, I am sure of it,” he says.

In January, a study on behalf of the Indian Super League club FC Goa found that there are 160 million football enthusiasts in India, and more than 23,500 of the 1.8 million Qatar World Cup 2022 tickets sold in the first two phases were purchased by Indian supporters. This shows that there is a clear passion for the sport in India, but it is a matter of where it is being channeled. 

Many football players in India complain of a lack of support for Indian clubs and the Indian team. Sunil Chhetri, the national men’s team captain, had to publish a tearful video on the Indian Football Team Twitter handle, imploring fans to attend the Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata in June 2018.

Girdhar agrees with the distinct indifference of Indian fans towards the Indian football  club scene. “People flock to our screenings when there is a Champions League fixture, but whenever we screen an I-League fixture or an ISL screening, there are few or no people, so we have stopped screening for Indian fixtures, and it is a pity,’’ he says.



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