14 May 2012

Strong fan culture needed

Nepalis are some of the most passionate football fans in the world. Where else in the world will you find packed stadiums supporting a national team and club sides that have failed miserably for the last 20 years?

Despite the fantastic enthusiasm we Nepalis have for football, the one area where we come-up terribly short is in terms of fan culture. At stadiums and grounds across the country there is a lot of “Ha-Hoo”, but very little of the sounds and colors that make viewing a football match so entertaining.

A big part of the charm of watching European club football or the World Cup is witnessing the crowds. The Dutch fans all clad in Orange, Brazilian supporters grooving to Samba beats, Manchester City fans celebrating by doing the Poznan and the amazing tifos organized by Italian club loyalists.

It is uncommon to find anything like that in Nepal. Fans wearing team colors, organizing chants or carrying flags and banners is as rare as a Nepali National Team striker scoring a goal in a meaningful game. Thus the atmosphere at many football matches tends to be very bland.

Part of the issue is that many Nepali clubs, even today, do not play in consistent colors. Many times they settle for whatever is available at local sports shops across Kathmandu. Also they do not make club merchandise (jerseys, t-shirts, scarves) available to their supporters or arrange any sort of programs to develop and organize their fan base.

Furthermore, Nepali media have been slow to romanticize football. Other than GoalNepal, media outlets rarely try to create nicknames for players, clubs and derby matches. Until very recently, team logos and uniform templates very seldom were displayed in previews and reviews of matches or on league standings. Therefore fans lacked the impetus to create supporting materials.

Fans themselves also have been quite unmoved to be proactive. Most disappointing are the supporters who spend many hours developing fan clubs devoted to English Premier League clubs yet can’t be bothered to do the same for their local clubs or even the National Team.

Strong fan culture brings with it tremendous benefits to Nepali football. Think of how many more fans would start attending league matches if atmosphere at games went up a few notches – for example Three Star fans all dressed in blue on one side of the stadium waving flags and NRT fans in green on the other side singing for 90 minutes.

With a livelier crowd, the intimidation factor for visiting teams also goes up, giving the National Team or Nepali club sides better prospects to win the match.

Also some of the ills of Nepali football such as match fixing would be potentially curtailed. Imagine the pressure players or club officials will feel when knowing that hundreds of their fans will be at the match rooting passionately for their team. Certainly it should give them pause before attempting to manipulate a match.

Me and Machhindra

As one who likes to put his money where his mouth is, I’ve tried my best to drum-up fan culture at Machhindra FC, the club I root for, whether it is by initiating their Facebook Page (someone else runs it now), wearing club colors to matches and even taking a Machhindra FC banner to Nepal U16 National Team matches in Singapore.

Most recently I created a five meter banner that reads “White Lions” – the nickname of Machhindra FC. I simply can’t wait to hang it up the next time Machhindra plays at Rangashala.