The fans have been awesome
Football! Now that is something that I can really talk about. Ever since I was a kid I was always enthralled by this amazing sport. Born in Islworth that is now a part of Greater London, I ironically have played for both the Republic of Ireland and England as a schoolboy. The reason is that my father hails from Dublin and my mother is English and at the age of 13 I was snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur where I went on to make 45 appearances between 1980-1984. Some of the most memorable games that I played while I was playing there were the Charity Shield match at Wembley against Liverpool and a quarter-final victory in the UEFA Cup over German giants Bayern Munich.
I have been in football for a long time now. After retiring as a player, I started off as a TV presenter for other sports, went into radio commentary, did an awful lot of work for the BBC all through England, Europe, Champions League and then I came back and did more television. For the last 12-15 years I have been a commentator for the English Premier League and the last four seasons I have been presenting a global fan show in Africa, Middle East, Europe, America and Singapore. I am now commentating for the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) and to be a part of the sport that I love in any shape or form has been fabulous, and it’s FOOTBALL!
So far I have commentated on 14 ISL games this season, and it feels like I have been playing Indian pinball, bouncing from venue to venue. Wherever there is a game I have been there, except Pune, which I hope to cross off the list soon. Being a part of the ISL has been the most exhilarating experience, because I get to see THE game, OUR game, MY game, seen through the eyes of the Indian football fans, which is quite similar to how everybody else sees it but it is still uniquely different in its own way.
The Indian fans watch the game with passion and a spirit as strong as any of the other major footballing nations of the world and I am so thrilled because there is obviously a desire, passion and a commitment to be involved with the sport and it is shown in the fans that I have encountered, the stadiums that I have been to, the atmospheres that I have experienced and most importantly, the knowledge. The fans are not just booing or cheering at random incidents, they watch the game, and if they don’t like a thing, they comment on it and it is all very, very accurate football minded and that is very impressive.
The one thing that stands out to me, as being uniquely different about the ISL and football fans is that they are really LOUD, and it adds to the energy. If the team goes a goal down, there is an unusual quietness around the stadium for a bit but then they realise that they are there to support their team and bang! They are off cheering their team again. Also, to see travelling supporters from other states is amazing because India is such a big country and to see fans representing their teams in away games has been an amazing sight to witness.
I have to say that the NorthEast United FC fans so far are the most consistent with their support. I have seen them turning up in great numbers everywhere I have been to and they will make every effort to make it to the games of the team, and they just have a great time. The fans have just been such an awesome part of the whole ISL experience, and they have shown their love for the game, so hats off and congratulations to all the Indian football fans that have come to the support their teams, you finally have the ISL to compare with other leagues around the world.
(This is the first in a series of columns by Hero ISL commentator Gary O’Reilly. A former Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace defender, he represented both Ireland and England as a schoolboy.)