What makes football the most beautiful sport in the world? A goal-saving last-ditch tackle? A defence-splitting pass? Or players dribbling past defenders with the ball glued to their feet? Definitely, but what sets football apart as a sport is the passion that fans bring to the stands and the stadiums. The Indian Super League has a distinct fan culture that has gained a lot of attention in recent years.
Football as a sport is very partisan and as Bill Shankly once said, football is not a matter of life and death, it’s much more than that. It’s because football has a strange connection with its fans – where the result of games determines how the week or the weekend will go for them, but what makes football fans unique is the Ultras culture. Ultras are a type of association of football fans renowned for their fanatical support that follows their football team everywhere, every game no matter the form.
Football has been dubbed as a growing sport in India for long enough and with the ISL growing, it finally seems to be living up to its status. The National team has shown steady growth making it to the top 100s once again, while the Indian Super League and the football calendar have been growing each season.
With the growth of the sport, the fans of the sport have also grown across the country. While football fans in this huge country were once found in pockets of Bengal – the North East, Goa and Kerala have seen an influx of fans from all over the country post 2014, or since the ISL began.
As the league grew and so did the rivalry among the clubs, India finally saw football Ultras culture take shape which was previously only concentrated in Kolkata between the two giant clubs which are a stone’s throw away from each other in the Maidaan. Today almost every Indian Super League outfit has its own set of Ultras who are always in the stands. We spoke to 10 such fan clubs who opined on their ideals, goals and plans ahead of one of the biggest club football seasons in India.
Mumbai City FC and the West Coast Brigade
Let’s start with the defending champions and the league shield winners, Mumbai City FC who were born only in 2014 along with the ISL but have slowly established themselves as a footballing powerhouse in just a decade. As Mumbai City grew so did the West Coast Brigade or as they love to call themselves “West Coast Brigade. Loud and Proud”. We connected with a member of their organization, Shannon, and we were updated about their plans for this season.
“Our main activities this season would be pre-match flare shows, huge banners and tifos and throughout the upcoming season there are many milestones that the club will encompass we have something special planned for those special occasions and along the season there will be a quite few surprises from us.”
Shannon had some information for the Mumbai City fans too:
“Anybody that loves this city, its culture and football can always join us in the stands and be a part of the West Coast Brigade family. If you are passionate about the city and the sport you are already a part of us. We have recently closed our membership campaign and being a member comes with some perks like free merch from WCB, priority for club and WCB events and a chance to meet our heroes in flesh. We will soon try to open up the memberships again and to get more info on membership roll-outs, fans can follow us on our social media handles.”
Shannon also told us about the long-term plans of the West Coast Brigade:
“The long-term vision is to create a safe and inclusive atmosphere in stands for every fan who loves and supports the club. A family that sings, chants, cheers, laughs, cries, and dances together not barred by age, gender, religion or any factor so that we as a fan club and our football club keep growing.”
Mohun Bagan SG and the Mariners Base Camp
Mohun Bagan got their hands on their maiden Indian Super League trophy last season in Goa but they missed their Ultras who sat out for the season in protest of the prefix ATK. Since then, ATK has been dropped and the football club, now known as Mohun Bagan Super Giant, will have the Ultras back in the stand after 3 seasons. We got in touch with Prasenjit from Mariners Base Camp (MBC) and he filled us in on how their Ultras movement started.
“Mariners Base Camp is not a conventional fan club, we are an amalgamation of more than 20 active Mohun Bagan fan clubs across the state and a huge number of unorganized supporters. We were one of the pioneering figures to bring the European Ultras culture to India when we started our journey in 2015.”
While Mohun Bagan’s games over the last 2 seasons garnered support, MBC had been away from the stands as they protested against the prefix ATK and vowed not to return until it was dropped. Prasenjit talked to us about staying away from his beloved club and the plans for this season.
“This year with the ATK prefix finally gone after a relentless struggle from our end, we will be back in the stands with rejuvenated energy for our beloved Mohun Bagan. We will start with Corteos (organized procession) during match days as we did during our days in the I-League. This year we plan to continue with our activities of creating Tifos and banners and focus on smoke bomb and pyro shows along with supporting the team with our drums, cheering and chanting. This is the year we show the ISL community what they have been missing the last couple of years.”
We inquired about the MBC membership process and how any Mariner can join the Ultras group and Prasenjit was happy to share the details.
“It’s an ongoing process where interested Mariners have to fill up an online form and their application goes through a background verification as there have been prior incidents where fans of our arch rivals have tried to infiltrate the ranks and join MBC so that they can spy and leak our match day plans. Post verification, the approved applicant is added to the group and the group WhatsApp chat and has to pay a meagre monthly membership fee.”
Kerala Blasters and the Manjappada
The unwavering support that the Kerala Blaster gets from their Ultras group is a delightful phenomenon. After 10 years and three so-close-yet-so-far Indian Super League finals, the Manjappada has stood behind its team through thick and thin. The Manjappada craze made the world and India sit up and take notice of not only their fandom but also football as a sport. We got in touch with Fazil from Manjappada to learn more about their organization.
“Manjappada which means ‘Yellow Army’ in Malayalam is a globally recognized name in the sport. We are famous for our continuous and steadfast support for not only Kerala Blasters but also for the Indian National team across the country wherever they play. We plan to increase our numbers and support our teams the best we can.”
“The Manjappada is not only limited to the stands, we connect socially and have organized football tournaments, come together to celebrate festivals and also have a group that is socially responsible who conduct blood donation camps and other volunteer work.”
Fasil also talked to us about how anybody who wants to be a part of the “Yellow Army” can join them.
“Manjappada is organised through social media and chat groups based on the geographical regions across India moderated by individual members. There is also a core group who are responsible for organizing various activities and managing our official social media pages.”
“New fans can join us in the stands and be a part of our family even if they don’t belong to any official chat groups. Once they are regulars to the games we add interested fans to the Manjappada community or on a referral from an existing member. The only criteria you must fulfil to be a part of us is unwavering support for the club and our colours.”
Bengaluru FC and the West Block Blues
Bengaluru FC in its brief history of ten years has managed to achieve the feat of being the 4th most successful club in India in terms of the trophies they have deposited in their cabinet. The West Block Blues (WBB) has been an integral part of the club since its inception and its days in the I-League. We managed to get hold of Harish from WBB and he talked to us about the fan club and what it wishes for the club to achieve.
“I think what’s important is the stance we take as a fan club rather than the stand we occupy. And it has always been the case with us. We want the club to consistently succeed on the pitch not only in India but also in Asia so as a fan club we can take our fanfare all over with them.”
Harish welcomed the idea of more fans and fan organizations in the city of Bengaluru for the club.
“It will be very good to have new and more fans onboard. It’s not only about the West Block, it’s about all the blocks in the Sree Kanteerava.”
Hyderabad FC and Deccan Legion
With just 4 years in Indian Football, Hyderabad FC has managed to amass quite a loyal following in the form of the Deccan Legion. The winners of the Indian Super League trophy in 2022 in just their third season in the league brought a major football trophy, after some fifty-odd years, to the city of Hyderabad. Hyderabad FC is an exciting institution in Indian football and we got in touch with Satya from Deccan Legion to know how they plan to support Hyderabad FC this season.
“We will try to travel to more away games this season and promote the club in the city more by organizing turf-based competitions. The plan is to organize more pre-match activities this season and also during the games to attract more fans to the stadium.”
Satya talked about how easy it is to connect with Deccan Legion for any new fan.
“Any Hyderabad fan that wants to join us can DM us on any of our social media handles and we will provide them with all the details required.”
Talking about plans, Satya sounded cautious but hopeful.
“Currently this is Hyderabad’s 5th season after the rebranding and post-COVID their 2nd season playing at home so we are growing outfit and trying to plan our activities normally and not go overboard so that we can plan a sustainable long-term approach.”
FC Goa and FC Goa Fan Club
Goa as a state has been a footballing powerhouse in this country, churning out players, coaches and clubs that have mesmerized India. From the times of Salgaocar, Dempo, Sporting Club de Goa and Churchill Brothers to FC Goa, Goa has been a constant in the Indian football circuit. FC Goa made its debut in 2014 with the Indian Super League with Zico at the helm and since then has been a darling of the Goan football fans. Omi from FC Goa Fan Club talked to us about the fanfare surrounding the club.
“We are the oldest and the largest FC Goa supporters club out there. While the last 2 seasons haven’t been as successful as we hoped for, it won’t deter us from shouting for our Gaurs this upcoming season. We will organize more away trips this season, have screenings, arrange team welcomes on match days and support them inside the stadium too.”
Omi told us how any FC Goa fan who wants to join them can make it happen.
“Anyone or everyone who loves FC Goa can join us. Just fill out a form online and you will be added to one of our WhatsApp groups. We don’t have membership fees but carry out our activities on the contribution from members for different activities.”
On the long-term vision of the fan club, Omi had some bright ideas that he shared with us.
“The long-term vision is to obviously work on enhancing the fan culture in the state and thereby also promoting Indian football as a whole and to become a bridge between the club and the fans. We have plans to be more streamlined this season without losing our essence of a fun and fan-driven club.”
Odisha FC and the Juggernauts
Odisha FC put the state of Odisha on the map of Indian football in 2019 when they made their Indian Super League debut. After qualifying for the playoffs last season and winning the Super Cup, Odisha will wish to push for a better season again this year under the guidance of Sergio Lobera. The Juggernauts, the official Odisha FC fan club will also be right behind their team again this season. We got in touch with Suvam to learn more about them.
“We are the official fan club of Odisha FC and we plan to organize activities in schools, colleges and residential societies to promote the club culture and strengthen the Juggernauts family. For home games, we are planning to bring out tifos and banners and procure to create a beautiful atmosphere for our players and fans.”
Suvam also talked to us about the club’s membership campaign.
“Interested people who reach out to us on social media are added to our WhatsApp groups and we try to conduct a monthly meet during the off-season where we induct these new members. Fans can also join us through people who are already members and we don’t have any financial constraints on membership yet. We provide official fan club badges to our members, discounts on merchandise and access to all of Odisha FC’s events throughout the year.”
Suvam added that in the long term, they plan to strengthen their base across all 30 districts of Odisha and also among non-resident Odias.
NorthEast United FC and the Highlander Brigade
The northeast of India has to be the cradle of Indian football given the number of national team players the region has given us. Clubs from North East have been an integral part of the Indian football ecosystem with clubs like Shillong Lajong, Aizawl FC, TRAU and Royal Wahingdoh playing in the I-league before NorthEast United FC made their first appearance in 2014. Football in the northeast is like religion and it didn’t take long for NEUFC to have their own Ultras. We talked with Vikas from Highlander Brigade and here’s what he had to say about the organization.
“We consider ourselves a supporters club and not a fan club and for the upcoming season we plan to do what we have done all along but on a better and larger scale. Whether it is our attendance in the stands or being vocal with our chants, drums and banners, we plan to make everything bigger and better.”
Vikas told us how they incorporate new fans into the Highlander family.
“To become one of us any NEUFC supporter needs to visit our website and click on the join us button. It will open up a form you need to fill up and submit and that should give you the link to join us right away. There is no cost to join us, it’s free the only expectation is active participation on your part.”
Vikas also filled us in on the goals the Highlander Brigade wants to achieve:
“Northeast has always been a hotbed of Indian football and we feel it lacks an organized supporters culture. Our long-term vision is to create a supporters culture that is on par with any top team of the world.”
Chennaiyin FC and the Super Machans
Chennaiyin FC is a two-time winner of the Indian Super League and has established itself as a football institution from the state of Tamil Nadu. While their luck has been down for the last couple of seasons, they narrowly missed the playoffs last season and will look to make amends this season with Owen Coyle back in the dugout and the Super Machans cheering them on from the stands. We talked to Jenisha from the Super Machans and she told us about how they came to be formed.
“The fan club started just after a few games into the first season by Naga Chaitanya, Josh Peters and a few other people who were strangers before Chennaiyin FC and our fan club was started in the stands. After the first season, we did promotions to get more people to join the group and that’s when I joined them. The sheer tenacity the founders had just after the first season with their social outreach programs and other activities trying to garner more involvement, got in more people to the group.”
Jenisha also talked about the various community causes that the Super Machans are associated with.
“We have grassroots programs where we reach out to schools to help develop young footballers. We are also associated with a cancer home for children and an orphanage in Chennai. We visit them and sometimes players tag along with us. We have done a lot of beach cleaning work and during COVID times we distributed food for homeless people in the city. We try to do as much as we can and we will continue our efforts in these causes.”
Talking about their membership campaigns and details, Jenisha shares the following information with us:
“Anybody who is a regular in the stands and is willing to chant with us is a Super Machan. We do have a membership program where you can join us by reaching out to us via social media, through members or just asking us in the stands. There is a nominal membership fee but the membership comes with perks like free merchandise and involvement in match day activities and access to Chennaiyin FC events.”
East Bengal and the East Bengal Ultras
East Bengal Football Club needs no introduction to Indian football. Before the ISL, it was the two Kolkata outfits, clubs from Goa and the North East that kept Indian football afloat. East Bengal hasn’t had the best of times since their move to the ISL, failing to mount a challenge for the playoffs position but their Ultras have been a constant companion.
While under Cuadrat they will hope to improve this season, we got in touch with Krishnendu Dutta from EBU to know more about their Ultras organisation.
“We are not a fan club, a fan club’s role is different from the Ultras. We are East Bengal Ultras, the first Ultras group not only in India but South Asia. We have been the pioneers of Ultras culture in India and were the first to do the corteo, tifos, 3D tifos, Mosiacs, smokes pyros, singing tunes of colony-only chants and musicals of India and we plan to keep on doing new things this season in various versions of tifos and pyrotechnics which have not been done before. Along with that, we have something special planned as this is our 10th year anniversary.”
Krishnendu told us they have no membership plans as of now but they are thinking of having one in the future. He added any East Bengal fan willing to join them in the stand and join their activities can be an Ultra.
We wanted to know the East Bengal Ultras plan to expand and spread the Ultra’s culture, Krishnendu told us that:
“The long-term vision is very simple. Spread the Ultras culture among the entire fan base and support the club through thick and thin. We plan to take a stand for the right things and become the best ultras organisation in Asia thus promoting our mother club East Bengal through us. In the end, it’s East Bengal that matters.”
Follow IFTWC for the latest updates on Indian Football.