The English Premier League really has it all- from the top players to an enormous fan following which it has steadily amassed since its launch in 1992. Over the last few years, however, this worldwide craze has seeped into India as well. Ritanshu Kashyap, Brand Director at Procter & Gamble is one of the few Indian fans who began his Premier League journey early, in the 2003 season, just one year after the Premier League even started broadcasting in India.
His love for Manchester United began that long ago too. About this, he says, “l started watching it fairly early on. I remember I was in the sixth or seventh grade, when United was doing really well. I was super inspired seeing that team and that’s how I got hooked onto the club. I saw Manchester United- the way they played was extremely good. Since then, I had no loyalties to any other team.”
As a young boy, Kashyap had a football ground in his colony, and that’s where he learned about football. He explained, “We were a bunch of kids who all started watching the Premier League together. That’s when I heard some guys talking about how good United was. What I remember distinctly is the class of ‘92, the legends of the club- Beckham, Scholes, Roy Keane. I saw the way they played and tried to emulate that as well. The midfield of United really carried the team, they were a star cast. Beckham used to give his pinpoint accurate corners to Paul Scholes and feed the strikers so they were in a position to succeed and score. These are all clearly etched in my mind.”
His favourite player, evidently, is Paul Scholes. “He was this no-nonsense footballer who did his job extremely well, made all the amazing passes in midfield, and scored some scorchers. He didn’t score a lot, but when he did, they were unbelievable, long distance volleys which he sends to the back of the net with full force and speed, and the keeper has no chance. He was just like this machine, an engine.”
When it comes to rivalry, Kashyap, just like any die-hard fan, has had passive aggressive conversations with his friends. Citing an example, he described a close friend of his who is a Chelsea supporter. “There is this age-old joke about Chelsea supporters that they convert into City supporters, depending on who’s doing better. But he’s not like that, he’s a loyal Chelsea supporter. We were having this conversation on New Year 2020, about which club has been the most successful in the past decade. He said that Chelsea has been the most successful club, which is absolutely not true. It’s actually City. We get into a lot of debates and after a point it stops being a data backed argument. We try to be cordial about it, but it’s slightly passive aggressive. But this particular argument was just funny because he reminded me, “Hey, you know what, you’re United.” After that I kind of humbled down myself and said, “Yeah, even we’ve had a terrible decade.”
Football has been with him, every step of the way. During a student exchange program, Kashyap’s college was in Marseille, France. He of course took this as an opportunity to travel to the UK, where he went to London primarily, but because he is a United supporter and was so close to Old Trafford, he couldn’t resist that five hour long journey one way. He recounts, “I undertook a very long bus journey, from London to Manchester. I did that alone, too, because my friends decided to stay back. Unfortunately, it was not match day and secondly, I was a poor college student, so getting tickets for 100 pounds was beyond my imagination anyway. Still, I went there and actually managed a tour of the football ground. I have a few pictures from that day. It was amazing.”
He obviously, bought some merchandise there. About his choice of merchandise, he says, “I was a college student so I looked for the cheapest thing and got a scarf, which I still have with me. And I still wear it too.A lot of my friends still make fun of me, saying, ‘What are you, a 10-year-old? Why are you wearing a Manchester United scarf?’ I reply, ‘There are some fashions that we can’t let go off’.”
Apart from the nostalgic scarf, his cousin brother, who lives in London also gifted him two United jerseys. “One was a jersey which had ‘Rooney’ written on the back, Wayne Rooney. And the other one was for Ronaldo. They’re original jerseys from Old Trafford, so the quality of the material was so good. I didn’t wear them for the longest time, because I thought I’d dirty them. I just kept them in my wardrobe.” Gradually, his family did coax him into wearing the jerseys when he played football. “They’ve worn out so much, that ‘Ronaldo’ is now ‘aldo’. But they’re still there with me because those first jerseys that I got were so special to me, I just keep them in my cupboard in a special place and don’t touch it. I don’t wear it anymore; I just keep it there as a very fond memory of the club that I support the most.” These truly special memories have been with him for almost 20 years, since he got them in 2006.
Despite his love for football, he never considered football fan clubs because to him, something feels a little inorganic about them. His football hub was his school, at first and then his college. “At least in my circle of people I have come across a fair share of people who watch a lot of Premiere League. I’ve been lucky that way. I can talk about United, different matches in the week and on the weekend.”
He enjoys the experience of going to a bar and watching the match on a big screen with his friends although he does admit, it doesn’t happen often. Hence, more often than not, he ends up watching them at home with a few friends or going to their place. Now, with the pandemic, it’s just him in his house, WhatsApp-ing everything on the phone with friends. Nevertheless, he enjoys that personal space, “I zone out completely; even my family knows that when the match is on, there is zero attention that this guy is going to give anyone. I still hope that things do open up very soon, and I’m able to go back and watch it either at someone’s house or in a sports bar. Let’s see; fingers crossed.”
Along with his WhatsApp conversations, Kashyap is active on social media too, following the common official handle on Instagram and Facebook. He likes reading up news, in general, about the Premier League and specifically, about United. Speaking of news, he said that it was a big day for the Premier League. “We just found out that Raphael Varane, the defender from Real Madrid, is the transfer that happened. I love keeping myself completely up to date, for which I have a United app which keeps sending notifications. Obviously, Google has found out that I’m a United supporter, so they keep feeding me news.”
As a marketer Kashyap believes that Premier League specifically is still niche, although it’s growing fast without doubt. “It is a good option for certain brands. We typically see automobiles and insurance companies who advertise. If it serves a purpose for you, as it’s male audiences, predominantly, it can be a good option.” He thinks the first thing that brands should do is make their presence felt during the live programming which he says can be either through vanilla advertising or innovatively integrating yourself into the pre or post show, where one finds loyal supporters. “But remember the time between the two halves of the match itself will always have a significantly higher viewership, than pre and post shows. So, if there is an option, I would say, being plain and simple between halftime is probably the better option for advertisers. Post that one can explore things like leveraging Star, which broadcasts the Premier League in India. Brands can engage with fans offline on an out of home basis and with live events which are well integrated with the game.”
Kashyap does not claim to be the biggest fan, unlike a lot of others, but his passion for the game is evident from the way he speaks about football and the Premier League. To him, the Premier League has fond memories of his childhood and also a once considered dream of being a footballer himself. “It is very close to me and even drives me. Till date, every Sunday I play football. It is a part of my life. Naturally, I’m waiting for August 14th. I want the Premiere League to get started again.”