Dhaka’s ‘Red Army’

Namira Hossain enjoys the first Barclays Premier League match with Manchester United fanatics

017On the 8th of August. 2015 thousands of miles away from Manchester, where the city becomes divided in red and sky-blue every week, 250 people in red shirts gathered around a big screen in a local restaurant in Dhaka. The names on the shirts varied from Cantona and Beckham (who played in the 90’s) to Chicharito and Van Persie (recent players) and of course fan-favourite Rooney. One might ask why. After all, in a dominantly cricket playing nation where the national team is making a splash in the international scene, it seems hardly plausible that anybody would care about a football team or their players from another continent. That too, from two decades ago.
It was the first game of the Barclays Premier League, the English football league which gained popularity in Asia in the 90’s. Manchester United were taking on Tottenham Hotspurs. Manchester United Football Club in particular, through their extensive marketing and of course their continued success in the Ferguson era, gained many loyal fans. Sir Alex Ferguson, the ex-manager who stood at the helm of the club for 27 years in a time when managers are fired for losing a single game, still holds legendary status in the hearts of fans.
This particular event in Bangladesh was organised by a Facebook group – Manchester United Fans- Bangladesh, which boasts 5,724 members and growing.
018The Facebook group MUSCBD (Manchester United Supporter’s Club Bangladesh) first began in December 2007 after being founded by Neon Tahidul Islam. They started hosting small get-togethers to screen the matches during the 2009/2010 season.
The group really took off after Dwight Yorke and Bryan Robson (ex Manchester United players) came to visit Dhaka with the Premier League trophy. Fayaz Taher, director at Fortuna Group, addressed the gathering before the game, ‘I had no idea that the Manchester United community is so big here in Dhaka. And I am a big fan of the community. Let’s hope this community gets bigger.’
Aside from just camaraderie and networking, there are many reasons for which people turn to sports and spend their days thinking about the fate of their favourite team as much as they might think about the fate of their marriage.
Toffael Rashid, one of the advisors of the club, talks of the lure of Manchester United Football club, ‘I went to the University of Manchester, and this jersey is from when we first won the league in ‘93. I have taken much from this club, aside from just football. Many life lessons from Ferguson – how to be a leader and how to conduct myself. There is no bond as strong as this – people change their jobs, their wives, their sexuality – but no one changes their football club.’
There is much truth to that statement as Head of Chamber at Justiciars, Annek R. Haque, advisor to MUSCBD, addressed the fans before the game. He also attended University of Manchester and has been a fan since 1987. He bantered about the other teams and their supporters in Bangladesh, mostly talking about how Manchester United has the largest fan following.
Despite suffering from a fall from glory ever since Ferguson retired, the fans’ unwavering faith has held strong. As the membership card was introduced on stage, people called out, ‘it’s a process!’, ‘It’s a philosphy!’ Fans of the club do not take their loyalty to the club lightly nor others’ either.
Neon Tahidul Islam shared about the membership card benefits, ‘we have agreements with 30 different outlets, if you show your card there, you get discounts. It also serves as entry to events and discounts for merchandise.’
Right before the game, discussions about the team were already going on, with the question on everybody’s lips: ‘Is De Gea staying or leaving?’ David De Dea is the club’s Spanish goalkeeper who has been embroiled in a transfer tug-of-war, with Spanish giants Real Madrid. It was also, manager’s Louis Vaan Gaal’s birthday and all the fans sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to a large cardboard cut-out of the man.
Finally, the game started and every touch of the ball by a Red shirt was greeted by cheers. Wayne Rooney’s goal in the 21st minute was greeted by rapturous applause and was the only goal of the game.
The live stream being shown on the large screen projector kept going off, leading to much panic but it was alright as they switched over to a satellite tv connection. Despite the lack of goals, and poor stream quality, there is no doubt that everyone in the room will still tune in to watch their favourite team every week, with the hopes of lifting the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.
But it’s not just the hope that brings them all together, it’s the bond and the connection that comes with having a favourite football team that keeps the fans glued to their televisions even at odd hours of the night.

One Comment

  1. S. M. Tahidul Islam says:

    Thank you Namira and NEWAGExtra for covering the event.

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