From West Bengal to West Brom
A West Bromwich Albion supporter in India on experiencing relegation and competing with the big clubs in the Premier League
Debanjan Banerjee, 29, doesn’t really have an answer for why he supports West Bromwich Albion (WBA), a club that is currently 13 in the Premier League rankings. Why not one of the big clubs, like Chelsea or Liverpool? Why support a club that starts every Premier League season looking over its shoulder for other relegation candidates?
“It’s difficult to explain how West Brom happened to me," Banerjee says. “I started watching football when I was 13. The first West Brom game I saw was against Manchester United in the 2002-03 season, when West Brom had just been promoted. Maybe I had a thing for underdogs or maybe it was the colours because the navy blue and white of West Brom are similar to my school colours."
Originally from Kolkata, Banerjee used to work in Bengaluru as a data scientist with Accenture. He now writes full-time on his blog, Thefootytraveller.com, travelling the world and making documentaries on football fans. He has travelled to most parts of the UK, South-East Asia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia, talking to football fans.
During his time as a West Bromwich Albion fan, the club generally remained outside the Premier League—until the 2010-11 season. “The first season I watched, 2002-03, we were relegated, then promoted the year after. Then came the ‘Great Escape’, which has been my greatest moment as a West Bromwich Albion fan," he adds. West Brom started the final day of the 2004-05 season bottom of the table, but they defeated Portsmouth and avoided relegation as results elsewhere went their way.
Late in 2016, one of his blogs went viral, catching the attention of Gurdial Singh, an Indian-origin Albion fan from West Bromwich who now works with the Albion Foundation.
Singh told Banerjee to stay in touch when he travelled to England. When Banerjee arrived in West Bromwich in September 2016, Singh put him in touch with Drew Williams, the media manager at WBA.
“I had no intention of meeting any players because no matter how small a club it is, West Bromwich Albion are still a Premier League club," Banerjee recalls. Williams not only took Banerjee around the Hawthorns before kick-off (they were playing West Ham United), but he also ended up meeting members of the West Brom squad, including Darren Fletcher (who now plays for Stoke City), Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Hal Robson-Kanu and others. “It was an incredible experience. Everything happened so quickly. It was hard for me to process anything; I was in a state of disbelief."
He also met some of the other club legends—including Tony Brown—on a day when West Brom defeated West Ham 4-2. Banerjee even travelled with the away fans in the coming days for a match at Sunderland.
Still, it must be strange being a West Bromwich Albion fan in India, where every second Premier League fan is wearing the colours of a top-six team.