The Telegraph
Thursday , May 8 , 2014
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Atletico eyes fandom in adopted city

- Loyalty lines already drawn among supporters of European football clubs

Miguel Angel Gil Marin, owner of Atletico Madrid, scored two goals with one shot on Wednesday, or so he thought.

“Calcutta finally has a European club it can support as its own,” Gil Marin told Metro on the sidelines of an event to unveil Atletico de Kolkata, the Indian Super League franchise in which his champion football club has a stake.

Marin would have been unaware that this is a city where the venerable Sir Alex Ferguson has long been “Dadu”, Howrah Bridge sometimes turns into Stamford Bridge, Maradona’s former son-in-law Sergio Aguero is addressed as “Jamai” and chants of Oh to be a Gooner and You never walk alone often replace Lungi Dance at nightclubs.

A more recent trend has been the growing presence of fan clubs owing allegiance to European football teams. Gil Marin would surely be hoping to hear of an Atletico Madrid and Atletico de Kolkata Supporters’ Club in town soon, if there isn’t one already being formed somewhere in Calcutta’s sporting landscape.

“I am sure that now many Calcuttans will actively support Atletico Madrid when they watch European football because it is also their team,” he said, lopsided smile in place.

From Manchester United to Arsenal to Liverpool, local supporters of European clubs can be as possessive and passionate about their teams as anyone at Old Trafford, Emirates and Anfield. What the Los Rojiblancos — Spanish for the Red and Whites — have done is give Calcutta a potentially more intimate connection with a big European club.

So how soon can we expect shouts of “Hala Madrid!” to match the pitch of “Glory Glory Man United” every time Diego Costa scores a goal?

“Atletico has been a very competitive side for a long time, but with a lesser following here than its city rival Real Madrid. What the Calcutta franchise could do is turn many Calcuttans into passionate Madridistas,” said Arjun Sen, 26, a La Liga fan who has been closely following the fortunes of Atletico for over a decade.

Future Atletico supporters can take a tip or two from the largest supporters’ club of a European team in the city. The Red Devils may have been having the blues for most of this season but try saying that to their 2,000-odd die-hard supporters comprising the Manchester United Fans Club–Kolkata.

“Football is a sport that is best enjoyed in a group and we wanted a community in the city that would meet regularly and cheer for their team,” said Soumya Dasgupta, 27, a PhD student at Jadavpur University who is the president of the Manchester United Fans Club.

Formed in 2011 on Facebook, the club today has more than 2,300 followers online and is a registered society with a governing body that organises big-screen telecast of matches featuring their team. Since last year, the club has also been holding a football tournament for members.

Liverpool and Arsenal have similar fan clubs. The Bengal KOP, a Liverpool supporters’ club named after the prestigious Kop end of Anfield stadium, became a registered society last month. The Arsenal fan club will become one by June. “Being registered with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation gives us the impetus to grow and someday be officially recognised by Arsenal,” said Pratik Bhattacharya, president of the 500-strong Arsenal Supporter’s Club, Calcutta.

Stephen Court on Park Street had turned into Anfield for two hours last September when about 200 supporters from either side watched Liverpool triumph over the Red Devils. Simultaneously, around 5km away at Kalighat Park, more than 100 fans were at a screening organised by a mixed Facebook community called Football is in our Blood.

“We have a base of 15,000-odd fans,” said Arka Das, administrator of the online community.

The hardest part of running such clubs is finding a venue where they can screen matches. Unlike Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore, Calcutta has few sports bars where matches are shown live. Cafes and pubs have high rentals while most banquet halls turn down requests.

“In 2012, we were looking for a place to screen a Liverpool match. We approached the owner of a place in Deshapriya Park and he was surprised that we wanted the hall to watch a match!” recalled Krishnendu Biswas, president of the Bengal KOP.

Some fan clubs have since tied up with a couple of lounges. Xrong Place, near Southern Avenue, is now the de facto home of the Big Four — Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. Arsenal Kolkata Supporters’ Club has also held screenings at Urban Desi on Camac Street.

While these fan clubs are still a long way from official recognition, an Atletico Madrid Supporters’ Club might find Gil Marin more than happy to put his stamp.

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