It’s a quiet evening in Bangalore, India, as the clock winds down on 1 June 2019. It’s a Saturday, but the roads are not as jam-packed as usual.
The police officers tasked with regulating them seem surprised by this oddity as well, as they chat away amongst themselves, discussing India’s chances against South Africa in their opening game of the Cricket World Cup.
The shopkeepers have pulled the shutters down, and restaurant owners have started noticing that more families are leaving their establishment than entering.
Just as the feeling that the city is ready for a slumber descends, four buses appear on the highway, making their way to Nandi Hills. The scenes inside them could hardly be any more different to the peace and tranquility outside.
Each bus carries 100 people, of ages ranging from 20 to 60, all dressed in red and screaming to the tune of Black Lace’s ‘Agadoo’:
“Jurgen Klopp Klopp Klopp, he will take us to the top/ Champions League, FA Cup we will win the f*****g lot/Jurgen Klopp Klopp Klopp, he’s the new king of the Kop!”
The excitement levels hit fever pitch every time one hymn ends and someone in the bus kickstarts a new one. The ones who do not know the lyrics have been handed sheets to follow along.
A handful of people, who are too nervous to join in, engage in discussions of mutual reassurance. They hope that this year’s outcome is different from the last.
This is the night of the UEFA Champions League final, between Liverpool and Tottenham. The destination, for the people aboard is a hotel resort, one where they can watch the live screening of the game together.
Liverpool, in fact did end up winning the match, and I was there to witness the emotion on the faces of my bus mates. The sense of collective jubilation after the final whistle was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I thought to myself: “If I do become a journalist, my first piece has to be on this group.”
So here it is. This is the Official Liverpool Supporters Club (OLSC), Bangalore – also known as the Bangalore Kop.
From Humble Beginnings
OLSC Bangalore renewed its membership with Liverpool as an official fan club for the seventh season running earlier this year. Over that period, they have been involved in LFC foundation initiatives, Premier League fan wall screenings and LFC World events.
But the organisation existed for three years before that, a time largely spent in pursuit of official accreditation from the club. During this time, as live screening of football wasn’t as popular in the country as it is today, they faced a multitude of issues.
Naresh Kumar Krishnasagar, a member of the organising committee, says: “We were holding screenings with two people, three people and pubs were not offering (us) a place.”
Even when they did, most places banned alcohol so the raucous matchday experience, something that can almost be taken for granted now, had to be built over time.
One factor that aided this was the passion of the supporters.
Krishnasagar explains: “There are people in our committee who are married. Imagine them coming to games at one in the morning and going back, especially to families that aren’t football supporters!”
But even the fact that the global appeal of a franchise can be as strong as evidenced is an intriguing one. After all, none of the members have any traditional or locational attachment to the club.
Steve Mathews, a Bangalore Kop member and Liverpool supporter for more than 40 years, explains, “From players like Ian Rush, who was my favourite by the way, to King Kenny (Dalglish), (Graeme) Souness and Craig Johnston, we had so many heroes to look up to, so many styles to emulate on the playground.
We could listen to the games on shortwave radio, catch the highlights on Big League Soccer (a round-up show hosted by the late Brian Moore), it was just an amazing time to be a Liverpool fan.”
He has passed on his affinity for the club to his kids, who regularly attend the live screenings now.
The Bangalore Kop has always been keen to make its presence felt in the local community. They organise blood donation camps three times a year and regularly set up football games in the area, to raise awareness about social issues.
“These are our people and we need to help them out when possible,” Krishnasagar says.
“We have an amazing platform and the people almost always come forward to play their part.”
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they partnered up with the LFC Foundation, who incentivised the process, as part of the “This Means More” challenge.
Members of OLSC s all over the world formed teams to carry out community service, and engaged in some friendly competition with each other. The winners, as selected by an official team of LFC judges, were given the opportunity to have a virtual chat with Jurgen Klopp.
The team from Bangalore partnered up with a few NGOs (non governmental organisations) and distributed food packets, containing rations for close to a month, to more than 60 families in need, while also making charitable donations to an animal shelter.
Their efforts gained global recognition, with Liverpool co-owner Linda Henry tweeting her appreciation:
— Linda Pizzuti Henry (@Linda_Pizzuti) September 6, 2020
“We organise a lot of screenings and get togethers for fun, but these are the events that we pride ourselves on,” Krishnasagar adds.
Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for the league title last season in style, on the back of an historic campaign with 98 points, 18 clear of second-placed Manchester City.
Recollecting his reaction to the title win in 1990, Mathews says: “In the ’80s Liverpool were all conquering. When we last won the league, I had just finished my second year in college.
I had a friend tape the entire lot of matches on VHS and I happily watched them through the summer break. At the time it just felt like yet another medal, that the well-oiled machine would roll on. Little did we know.”
The elusive trophy was numerically guaranteed to Jurgen Klopp’s men when Chelsea beat Man City at Stamford Bridge with six game weeks to go. Fans all over the world were robbed of the opportunity to celebrate the monumental achievement in unison by the pandemic. In India, a virtual screening was the best that the Bangalore Kop could do.
“We weren’t planning on doing a screening for that game as we didn’t think Chelsea were going to beat City to be honest!” says Krishnasagar. “But we received lots of messages to go ahead just on the off-chance and I’m glad we did.
“An actual [in-person] screening would have been 100 times better, but then again, we might not have screened it at all, as Liverpool weren’t even playing. At least virtually, all of us got to celebrate together.”
He ends on a thoughtful note: “As supporters, to get involved, we need the club to perform well. That is where the enthusiasm and connection comes from and it becomes a lot easier to ask people to participate in events, screenings and campaigns.”
We have often heard that success off the field is much easier to achieve when the club is succeeding on it. With a global fanbase who mirror their values and traditions, Liverpool look set to become the perfect illustration of this point for years to come.