This may sound unreal but is indeed, the reality. Ask any member of the West Block Blues and they will tell you the same thing. The club just turned three on July 20, 2016, but already created history by winning the I-league in its debut season. In three years, the club has won as many trophies. It has also earned over thousands of loyal fans in a short span of time. Yes, the fans call themselves the "West Block Blues".
What started as a few passionate fans from West Block A Stand has now grown to become a family. It is a family where everyone comes together to show their love and support for BFC, whether it be at the Kanteerava stadium or at match screenings, or even away games.
This passion does not end with BFC: the fans are equally passionate about Indian football team. This is achievement for the club, the country and the sport. The bigger dream we all are dreaming is to see Indian football reach greater heights at the world stage.
But what is it about BFC that attracts so many female fans? What is it about the West Block Blues that makes fans feel like they are a part of a family? Let us rewind to that day when I became a West Block Blue. I am an ardent follower of European football. India is known to have a huge fan following for the same.
I was aware of the I-League and also of the fact that BFC had won the title in their debut season, but had never watched a game live. By 2016, BFC and West Block Blues had gained a lot of popularity. I was curious to know why. I got acquainted with Waseem Ahmed who is one of the pioneers of the West block Blues Fan Club.
My first experience
It started off as an initiative, an idea of a few individuals who just wanted to make a difference. He filled me in with everything I had to know about BFC and WBB. He was extremely inspirational as he spoke of all the things they had done for the cause of Indian football. The untiring efforts of many other passionate, dedicated and committed fans have not gone unnoticed.
“How would you feel if you played in an empty stadium?”— Waseem Ahmed
They have been extremely instrumental in promoting Indian football. I then decided to experience this magic at the fortress. My first game was Bengaluru FC vs Sporting Club de Goa on February 6, 2016. I bought the BFC jersey and learnt the chants as a couple of us prepped for our first live football match. I was given the opportunity to paint a few flags for the game due to my passion for art. The experience was unbelievable.
The whole West Block A stand was filled with passionate west blockers chanting throughout the 90 minutes in their full voices. That was the day I fell in love with this club and the fans. Since then I’ve been regular to the home games, other fan gatherings and have been actively involved in banner paintings. To have witnessed BFC winning the I-League title at the fortress in my first season as a fan is an experience I will always treasure.
The age old mind-set that sports is for men does not hold true any longer. However, the sports scene in India was quite different until recently due to increased awareness around women involvement in sports as both players and fans.
Football has now become one of the most watched and played sport in our country, by both men and women. The viewership has been mostly limited to European football, but the future for Indian football looks bright thanks to the I-League and to fan clubs like West Block Blues. The female fan base for football has been increasing too. It is interesting enough to note that Bengaluru FC has a huge number of female fans. There are numerous reasons why.
The West Block Blues
The WBB are a close knit family. They are one huge reason why we always have female fans coming to the stadium on match days or for match screenings. The atmosphere created at West Block automatically attracts crowd, let alone women. We all talk about equality among men and women.
At West Block, it actually happens. The WBB always ensure that every female fan is taken care of, every minute of every game. In fact, when I went to my first game with a few of my female friends, we had no clue where to stand and watch the game. We were welcomed and taken to the centre of West Block and be involved in chanting.
Those who have been to West Block A would know it has free seating. Something as small as making place for her to stand and enjoy the game with the best view goes a long way. Not to forget security, safety and protection.
As much as we want to live in a society where women can walk around freely, there will always be that small amount of fear in our hearts. The fellow fans always make sure that the woman is protected and reaches home safe at night after the game by arranging transport or dropping her off home.
They are also very encouraging and motivating if a fan wants to do something more for the club like paint flags, banners etc. Personally, it is because of WBB that my passion for art and the club has grown. They gave me an opportunity to paint flags and get involved in designing/painting banners.
And one does not even need to know/follow football initially/actively to join the WBB. One is welcomed with open arms no matter what. This is one of the drivers of having more female WBB members.
Volunteering at BFC
Before the beginning of every season, the club invites nominations for volunteers. The scope of volunteering at BFC includes match day and otherwise. You can participate on match days by volunteering at the merchandise store outside Kanteerava, ticket sales, media support, hospitality etc. Not to forget, you can also become the famous mascot "Eddie"!
Apart from this, you can engage in volunteering at BFC soccer schools, merchandise sales and BFC store and much more. Again, no one is looked down upon for lack of football knowledge. Women are given equal opportunities and are equally empowered to volunteer at BFC, in their areas of interest. The club takes immense care to ensure that every volunteer and fan feels like a part of the club, united.
The BFC culture in itself is so warm and inspiring. The club, the staff, the players and everyone else involved are very fan friendly and down to earth. This automatically makes you want to be a part of it, irrespective of gender. But the club has also done a lot towards women empowerment. In April 2016, BFC started a campaign to celebrate strong women by releasing YouTube videos titled ‘#WomenOFSteel’.
These women are a part of the BFC family, who have played an instrumental role in the success of the club. BFC continues to recognise efforts of women in shaping the club the way it is currently. March 9, 2016 was International Women's Day and also an AFC Cup match day. Women were given free entry to the game in a couple of stands (West Block A being one of them) and this was advertised aggressively so that more women could come watch the game, even though it was a weekday. This may seem like a very small initiative but it did go a long way in terms of reaching and appealing to a female audience.
Football is not just for men. And Bengaluru FC is the right example to demonstrate this fact. The journey since July 20, 2013, has been a challenging yet rewarding one. Rewarding in terms of club success, respect, brand and most importantly the emergence of loyal and passionate fans, including women.
What separates BFC and West Block Blues from the rest of the football fans in the country is that they've been instrumental in bringing thousands of new fans to the stadium every season. Going to schools and colleges, conducting seminars, organising multiple impactful online campaigns, talking at youth festivals and other crowd gatherings is their way of doing what is right for Indian football. You don't see this anywhere else in the country. This appeals to new female fans who automatically become inspired to drive change, do make a difference, and to be passionate towards what they love.