Three Lions fans from India outnumbered the home-bred kind nearly 10 to one and expressed outrage at being labelled “fake” as England rolled into their World Cup base in Qatar on Tuesday.
As England’s team bus pulled up in the dark at their hotel, the drums were beaten and the horns blasted by Indian fans proudly wearing England shirts and carrying England flags.
About 20 English fans were present alongside almost 200 from India’s Kerala state.
The supporters waiting for Harry Kane and his teammates also included families from Bangladesh, two young women from China and a Thai man.
There was a brief scare when temporary barriers holding back the crowd fell. No injuries were reported.
Conversation as the supporters waited was dominated by reports in the British and French media that they were “fake fans”.
“This is degrading, there is a lot of frustration,” said Ameen Sharak, an Indian resident of Doha who works as an accountant.
Sajidh, 29, said Indian football fans in Qatar had been “outraged” by reports suggesting they had been paid to wear the shirts of World Cup nations when thousands took part in a march along the Doha seafront last Friday.
“It is purely fake news and I would like to say loud and clear that none of us have been paid in any way,” added Sajidh, who gave only one name.
“We are diehard England fans. Since childhood, my favourite player has been David Beckham. We have got Wayne Rooney fans, we have got Michael Owen fans.”
The Doha march was dominated by supporters from India wearing Argentina and Brazil shirts ahead of England.
Fans who took part said it was organised on social media groups and whatsapp messages.
“This has hurt us a lot,” said another fan, Anas. “People just do not realise how much football excitement there is in Kerala.”
At the last World Cup a 25 metre (80 feet) effigy of Kane was put up in one Kerala city.
“We watch the Premier League every weekend. We come from India but they have not qualified so people choose the team they want to support,” added Anas.
The smaller English contingent was represented by the likes of Alan Hindmarsh, a construction engineers who has lived in Doha for eight years. He is convinced his country will win the World Cup.
Hindmarsh also said the hundreds of thousands of foreign fans coming to Qatar, which has been criticised over its rights record, would be surprised at what they find.
“There has been a very negative perception of Qatar, but when the fans get here and see what the reality is on the ground, the facilities and the welcome of the Qataris, it will be absolutely fantastic,” he said.