Playing Out the English Premier League In Mumbai, India

Football as a religion transcends nations, economic boundaries and personal differences. India, a cricket crazy nation, often comes across as a country of billions of people worshipping Sachin Tendulkar, who burst crackers with a vengeance whenever India wins a cricket match. But behind this mask of cricket fanaticism, there exists another band of football rebels for whom no weekend night is ever complete without the English Premier League and no day is ever complete without a friendly sledging related to match days on social networking forums.

I would like to draw your attention to Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The sprawling city is home to a motley group of people who trace their roots back to different parts of the country. Amongst all the Indian states, three are regarded highly for producing football fanatics and players of the highest quality. First comes East Bengal, the home of Indian football, a state where the walls of buildings are still adorned with murals of Pele, Ronaldo and Zidane. Next in line is the South-Indian state of rice eaters, Tamil Nadu, the state producing footballers with great tenacity and physical endurance. Last but not the least comes Goa, the Indian holiday capital, the land of many beaches…credited with producing the flair players, the ones who produce step-overs without accidently burying their boots into the turf and comically falling over.

I am luckily associated with a group of individuals who come from the states mentioned above. For them Mumbai is a melting pot, an amalgamation of their football passions. Since the founders of this football group are Malyalis who originate from Tamil Nadu, our Sunday League has forever been branded The Mallu Premier League (abbreviated as MPL) (P.S : Mallu is short for Malyalis).

The Mallu Premier League attracts the best talent (or so we think naively) from across Mumbai every Sunday. Every member passionately supports a Premier League Club and tries to emulate his favourite player on the pitch often resulting in hilarious situations.

A typical MPL Sunday starts at 4:30 PM, with two ardent, die-hard and obsessed Manchester United fans in me and my good friend Arun Basker inspecting the pitch (a ground belonging to a local school that is open to the public on weekends) and shooing away any kids that might be playing cricket there with great gusto. The process usually involves us demolishing their stumps by aiming free kicks at them. After pulling the goal posts into position, we wait for the other members to grace us with their presence.

Next to arrive is Humayun (aka the Indian Lennon, aka the horse). Bearing searing pace, a mean right foot and an inexplicable habit of kicking the ball hundreds of miles into the air while attempting a pass, he proceeds to warm up by zipping around the ground like a horse whose tail is on fire. He is followed by a Chelsea fanatic Mayur, clad in the blue jersey, bearing a scowl on his face not unlike the one that Carlo Ancelotti possesses. Arun and Mayur are always involved in a battle wherein Mayur alleges that Manchester United influences the referees and linesmen and Arun suggests Mayur’s “intellectual footballing capacity” resembles a two year old crying for a lollipop.

While the other members arrive, we warm up by having a punt at goal, which annoys Arun to no end. “Learn to pass first, instead of kicking away like mindless zombies”, he mutters. Nobody pays heed to him and proceed to thrash the skin off the ball, often missing the frame of the goal by thousands of yards and conking the noggins of old grannies crossing the street opposite to the ground.

Post this ludicrous warm up session, the teams are split up — the Mallus on one side and the rest on the other. I look around me and grin at Arun before every game. We always end up in the same team which pleases us to the core. Arun is our answer to Vidic and Valencia combined. Possessing a lithe frame and a terrific turn of pace over 30 yards, he is often seen marauding down the flanks at incredible speeds and putting perfect balls into the box. He is also seen battering the opposing strikers by putting in crunching tackles and a strong shoulder barge. Arun’s younger brother Allen is the David Silva / Shinji Kagawa of our team. Diminutive in height and blessed with exceptional dribbling skills, the youngster ghosts about the mid-field, scurrying past defenders and setting up chances for our strikers.

The Mallus are infuriated to no end whenever we score. Their leader, Varghese, is a picture to behold whenever they concede. Starting with a customary “Aeeeee !!!!” and a verbal volley aimed at his team mates, he proceeds to emulate Ryan Shawcross and tackle dangerously often scaring our strikers off the ball.

The Mallus possess a Steven Gerrard in their team by the name of Tenny (Uncle). Often seen launching counter attacks with a diagonal ball and scoring delightful free kicks, he encourages all of us regardless of which side we are on, to “keep stamina” and to “set the offside trap”. The most comical character in this weird group is a gentleman by the name of Roy. Shorter than Wright Phillips, he always invokes images of a hammer in my head. His lower body and legs are thin while his upper body is so bulked up, that, I sometimes have a problem believing how he can see his toes. Always moaning and complaining a la Suarez he is the perpetual cry baby. Often seen counting the goals they score (which again pisses Arun off to no end. His philosophy is that we shouldn’t see who is winning / losing), he wears the tightest Manchester United jersey available for his size and cries whenever somebody does not pass the ball to him.

I would like to think that I am the Scholes in the entire setup (it would be a great dishonour to the great man, but nevertheless, here I go). I have a penchant for cross field balls and the simple passes. I would like to believe that I am a decent volleyer as well, but then, if wishes were horses, pigs would fly. After the match is over, we all sit together and discuss how Walcott could have played better (this discussion been carrying on since two years), how Ashley Young could have done by not passing the ball back to Evra everytime he was in a one-on-one situation, how Rafa Benitez could have tried a tie other than the red one he continues to over-use, how De Gea could have tried catching flipped pizzas in the kitchen before attempting to paw feebly at balls in the box.

This I believe is the essence of the English Premier League. It is our great love (my girlfriend has promised me that she’ll marry me the day I swap a Manchester United match for a date with her). It bonds us, stirs us up and drives us on to emulate the fantastic group of individuals that are stars in the galaxy of perhaps the greatest football league in the world. Far far away in a tiny ground in one corner of India, there exists a zoo, the Premier League Zoo.

28 thoughts on “Playing Out the English Premier League In Mumbai, India”

  1. Even in a cricket fanatic country like India, you Sir and your group of jolly good friends seem to be having great fun, playing football regularly. And the passion with which you have paralleled your football matches with EPL seems to be astounding.Wonderful writing at work.Hope your passion rubs onto people who get a chance to read this amazing article and start following EPL,play football with great fervour..Long live the Premier League Zoo !!

  2. A great article/account of your relationship with football and the BPL… (Outside of the dodgey BPL team selection ;). )

    A great read! I haven’t enjoyed an article that much from any source in a long time.

    1. Hey :-) Glad to know that you enjoyed it. I havent written about even half of the crazy characters that we house btw :-)It just goes to show how the game is followed so ardently in every nook and cranny of the globe..

  3. “South-Indian state of rice eaters, Tamil Nadu”

    you do realize people in entire south india consume rice as an main staple right? there are three other state other than TamilNadu.
    your statement has the same effect as someone from another part of India stating ” Bengalis are eaters of dried fish ”

    Also your statement “Malyalis who originate from Tamil Nadu” is not true
    Malyalis originate from the State of Kerala.

    I am not sure if you are from india but if you are please make a little effort to learn about India and its heritage.

    1. This article needs to be taken in a humorous way. Where did the question of sentiment and heritage come into picture … Is it not true that South Indians eat rice? instead of harping on the such trivial issues, you can enjoy the various parallels that the author has drawn. And btw, I am a Malyali born and brought up in Chennai.. N I dd not feel even a little bad about the statement.. It’s all about the football and the passion . There is no need to get onto your high horse and pull it down…

    2. Impossible to comprehend why rather than appreciating such a fun article, some people tend to nitpick such trivial things. Give the author some leeway man,for having thoroughly entertained us. As a matter of fact, I hail from “the South-Indian state of rice-eaters” in question and I can vouch for the author, that our staple food is Rice and I don’t see any problem whatsoever in being called that way. Would be better if you gave the article a better read,throwing these petty considerations out of the window. Otherwise as right pointed out by Sir “Henry William Atkins”, you better stop spoiling this great article and find something else to spoil.

    3. Dear Mallu, my friend never had an intention to question the heritage of the mallu’s or malyali’s.

      My friend is very much from India and is well aware of its heritage. If you still feel offended, we are sorry. Like someone already said, u need to take it lightly.

    4. Dearie me lad (Mallu) aren’t you a whiny one eh? What in the effing name of the lord has the writer done to displease ya? Called you a rice eater?
      Well laddie, I am Irish, and we love our pint, it doesn’t mean that I am going to knock the peg off someone who calls me a guzzler.
      I am an Aberdeen fan and follow the Scottish Premier League. In the EPL I follow Swansea, yet this article made me connect with our brothers all the way down in India.
      Instead of worming through it and poking pins, enjoy the treat that he has served up. We all love football lad. Believe me, I would have been the first one to have your back if I felt that you were offering constructive criticism…but to say that he is abusing your culture and heritage is a bit too much.. I can only point me finger at you and laugh!! Poor lad, did you get beaten up at a pub 😀 ?

      To the author : well done sir! Well done

  4. I wonder what the Mallu lad was getting so upset about.. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you my dear boy , that it was a fantastic read. I have not laughed so hard in such a long time 😀 great job… I would like to read more stuff from you … Keep it coming :-)
    Btw the Mallu moron better stop spoiling great stuff like this and find something else to spoil for a change…shame that there were no rotten tomatoes around here 😛

  5. Mr Abhik, this is very refreshing indeed. What a nice diversion from all the heavy duty football stuff. It’s wonderful to see the human aspect in this. Btw I loved your profile line, ” engineer by profession, footballer by religion”. If you do not mind, I would like to tweet it :-)

  6. I loved this write up. It goes to show how much passion football invokes in all of us. It is great to see humour infused cause it’s rare to see and find this in football literature. You have genuinely made me laugh. Excellent :-) keep it up.

    1. Let’s cut Mr Mallu some slack guys. He probably did not realise the value of good humour. I am from Dallas Mr Mallu, yet I would like to apologise to you, if it pleases you. I hope you can forgive the writer. His only fault was that he made all of us laugh.

  7. Nice post btw Mr. Abhik. Your passion for football is well apprehended. I couldn’t help but notice Mr. Mallu’s views on your post I think he does not understand nor appreciates the intention with which this post has been written. @ Mallu get a life and I sincerely believe you find your long lost humour amidst the ruins of your cold criticism ……. :-p……..

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