For our latest ‘Everywhere We Go’ feature, we spoke to Alok Badri, Chairman of ‘India Spurs’, the Official Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Club (OSC) in India. We talk about the profile of Spurs in the country, whether football could ever get close to cricket in terms of popularity, and which up and coming Blue Tigers might make the move to New White Hart Lane in the future.
Here’s what Alok had to say:
When and why did you first start supporting Spurs?
I started supporting Spurs in 2007-08 season. The first ever Tottenham match that I remember seeing was the 125th Anniversary game and I was enthralled by the way we played football. That team featuring Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Aaron Lennon got me hooked to the club and I have only fell more in love since.
How did India Spurs start? I can see that you’ve now got many OSCs all over the country!
India Spurs was established in 2012. Suraj Sharma – an Indian residing in London and a life-long Spurs supporter and a season ticket holder – traveled to India and realised that there were a few Indian Spurs fans on social media.
Having worked closely with the Tottenham Hotpur Supporters Trust, Suraj knew the importance of an OSC and hence he founded India Spurs with around 30 members initially.
Since then the India Spurs family has grown into 15 full fledged OSCs and around 1,300 paid members across the country. We also have unpaid members who are more than 3 times in size. Spread across 15 different states in India, India Spurs is now one of the largest OSCs under Tottenham.
What sort of profile do Spurs now have in India?
Spurs are looked upon as title underdogs, but when I started supporting Tottenham, it was still considered as a mid-table club. The performances on the pitch and the activities done by the OSCs have helped change the image of the club in India. People now think of Spurs as one of the ‘Big Clubs’ and it gets respect from many rival fans in India.
Premier League clubs, including Spurs, have made a number of big money tours to Asia over the past few years. Do you think there is an appetite in India for such a tour?
All the Premier League clubs are looking at India as one of their biggest markets outside the UK. As the Chairman of India Spurs, I work closely with the club for their India affairs so our club is certainly invested in India.
Having said that, because of the sheer size of the country and the demographics of the fan base, I believe there is still some time before Tottenham arranges a full fledged tour to India. But, until then, they are trying to get involved in the Indian football scene in any way possible.
For those who aren’t familiar, could you tell us a little bit about the history of football in India? Who are the country’s most famous players and clubs?
Indian football in the 1950s and 60s was blooming. There was huge potential for football’s growth. But India’s performance in cricket and the subsequent World Cup of 1983 changed the winds in India – cricket became the primary sport and football took a backseat.
With the emergence of Premier League and other modern European leagues, football started growing in India again and we have had some stellar players coming through the country. I-league has been very instrumental in that sense and the country has seen some of the best clubs during the last two decades. East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Salgaoncar FC, North East United are some of those clubs.
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are both Kolkata based clubs and city rivals. The rivalry dates back to 1921 and it is one of the fiercest in Asian football. The derby takes place in the Salt Lake City Stadium in Kolkata which has a capacity of 85,000.
Baichung Bhutia, who captained the Indian team for a decade, also played in Bury FC back in 1999-2002. Bayern Munich came to India for his farewell match.
Another player, Sunil Chhetri, currently has 72 international goals in 115 appearances, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo among the currently active players.
The Indian Super League was founded in 2013 – what sort of impact has it had?
The Indian Super League is essentially a cup competition with round robin system. Because of the money flowing in to the game and some celebrities getting involved, ISL has tried to democratise football and has managed to pull significant amount of attention towards football.
Clubs like Mumbai FC, Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC have a huge supporter base and the regular match going crowd is only increasing. Atletico Madrid bought stakes in a club and named it Atletico de Kolkata (now merged with Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan FC). Manchester City have also invested in Mumbai City FC.
Spurs great Robbie Keane had a spell in the league – do you think we’ll see more stars making the move?
Robbie Keane played for Atletico De Kolkata and it was a dream come true for many Indian fans who started supporting Spurs because of him. Kolkata has a big Spurs supporters’ base and they went and met him quite a few times.
But I don’t see many stars making the move especially in the post COVID world, because the money in the ISL is still not comparable to, let’s say, MLS and Chinese Super League. Hardly any top players will be interested in playing in India because the level of football also needs to be improved. But I hope we get to see Kane retiring in India eight years down the line. Who knows?!
Cricket is obviously the number one sport in India, but do you think football can ever come close to rivalling it?
For a country of 1.3 billion people, cricket is more like a religion. Most children don’t play any other sports during their early childhood so that popularity is hard to break. Football is taking baby steps in the country, but it’s going to be a long journey before it can actually rival cricket.
Do you think we’ll see a football player reach the same status as Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli?
If cricket is a religion, Sachin is God and Virat is not far behind. It’s a difficult task for any player to match those levels. But Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri are also kept on a pedestal for their passion for Indian football. If football grows in India to the levels of cricket, we might see someone take the same status as Sachin or Kohli.
Are there any up and coming young Indian players who we could see appearing for Spurs in the future?
India’s Under-17 captain, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, is one of the most promising young players currently. Many pundits and journalists have high hopes from him.
Amarjit’s cousin Jeakson Singh, also an Under-17 player, is very talented too. Aside from these two, Dheeraj Singh and Mohammed Nawaz have a very high ceiling in terms of footballing potential. We hope to see at least one of them play for Spurs.
Alok Badri is the Chairman of India Spurs. You can find them on various social media platforms: