Football matches are electrifying experiences. Massive stadiums, packed with thousands of fans – huge swaths of people in team colors, singing; screaming chants in unison. If you have ever been in one, you know what it feels like to be a part of a single, massive organism — each missed goal leaving you all groaning and each successful one being received by thunderous jubilation.
And the experience is just heightened by the supporter groups. A dedicated bunch of men and women, who swear complete loyalty to their chosen club, and use chants, Mexican waves, pyrotechnics, and poznans to make the matchday experience incomparable.
West Block Blues (WBB) is Bengaluru’s answer to the leading supporter groups of the UK. And while they may not have the size to rival their British counterparts, they make up for it in heaps with ‘never-give-up’ spirit, sense of inclusivity, and social consciousness.
It doesn’t take much to be a WBB. The collective of fans, named after the West Block-A stand of the Bangalore Football Stadium, are supporters of the Bengaluru Football Club (BFC). A professional team, BFC earlier played against clubs such as Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Dempo in the I-League. Since 2017, the club has shifted to the Indian Super League, where it regularly faces off against rivals such as the Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, and Kerala Blasters.
For many of its members, WBB represents a family away from their own. These men and women, who come from places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala, and even Japan, have made Bengaluru their home for personal reasons. Over the course of time, their love for football, and BFC, has drawn them into the West Block Blues fold. This inclusive spirit can be seen every matchday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium (AKA ‘The Fortress’), where people across the gender and age spectrum come to cheer the team they love. One such person is Mrs Sri Vasantha — or ‘aunty’ as she is fondly referred to by veteran WBBs — who hasn’t missed a single BFC match, whether at home or away. In fact, a legend goes that aunty has been to more matches than Sunil Chhetri, the legendary Indian striker, who captains BFC.
Another aspect of the West Block Blues that sets it apart from other Indian supporter groups are the chants. While football culture in India is yet to equal the fervour and excitement in Europe and the Americas, WBB is doing its bit to make chanting a part India’s football experience. This includes chants in Hindi, such as ‘Roca Roca de de’ (referring to BFC’s coach Albert Roca), and ‘Santosake’ and ‘Huttidare’, popular Kannada songs which have been abridged to become chants everyone can remember. For those comfortable with English, there are chants such as ‘When the Blues go marching in’ and ‘Oh Bangalore is wonderful’, which are easy to sing along to. However, these chants aren’t just limited to when the team seems to be winning. Following BFC’s crushing 1-1 draw to Mohun Bagan in 2017, the WBB came into the next season in full gusto, chanting even harder than before, and even unfurling a banner, which said ‘We will take back what is rightfully ours’.
Unfortunately, football supporters the world over have gained a bad reputation, thanks to the actions of a few. In fact, in the last World Cup, acts of sexism, racism, and homophobia of a few supporters left a bad taste in the mouths of all football fans worldwide. The West Block Blues actively tackle such issues by keeping an open channel of discussion with all members, especially younger people. This has resulted in positive outcomes, as fans, especially women, feel very comfortable at The Fortress. On the digital front, WBB has also initiated ‘Mental Health Mondays’, opening a channel of discussion for members to voice their concerns and be heard. This is the brainchild of Vijay Bharadwaj, a veteran of WBB, who credits the group for being a family members can always fall back on.
But West Block Blues’ support doesn’t just end within their circles. The group has also been instrumental in helping other collectives, such as the ‘Super Machans’, Chennaiyin FC’s supporters, find the right voice for their club. On the national front, West Block Blues also showers a lot of support to the Indian national football team. Members from WBB form a core part of the ‘Blue Pilgrims’, that travels with the team for international matches, and finds places to stay for fans travelling into Bengaluru for international matches through the ‘#bedsfortravellingfans’ effort. West Block Blues has also played an integral part in crowdsourcing funds for natural calamities such as the Chennai floods in November, 2015, and the Nepal earthquake in April of the same year.
Through their ethos of fairness, equality, social consciousness, and inclusivity, West Block Blues is developing a new culture of sports in india — redefining what it means to be a football fan in the country. In the process, they — like the city they so proudly represent — are sending out a clear message: though you might not be from here, you and your voice will always be welcome.
Photographs by Ankit Banerjee
Fond of hoarding books, playing rugby, exploring music, and saving puns for future use, Varun is a “lover and a fighter”. Find him on Facebook to discuss why Carnatic music is so much like heavy metal or why Tyrion actually sits on the Iron Throne!