Football has always attracted celebrity interest over the years and clubs now like to boast of the popular names that support them. For instance, Liverpool have NBA star Lebron James supporting them while Real Madrid have tennis superstar Rafael Nadal as a fellow fan.
In the modern age, these allegiances are often turned into marketing opportunities which then further increases the club’s own popularity and prestige alongside the respective celebrity’s fame as well.
But it looks like London club West Ham United have had an extremely unlikely candidate as a supporter following the revelations that Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi was a keen football fan who had a fondness for the English club.
Yes, the ‘father of the nation’ seems to have been a Hammers supporter as revealed by an extract from Benjamin Roberts’ Bottles – English Football’s Boozy Story. In the book, Roberts recounts that Gandhi had a strong connection with football, the London club and that he used to mingle with fellow Hammers supporters in pubs.
“It turns out that Gandhi was a keen football fan and having established three football teams in South Africa, there are reliable reports that during his stay he attended several West Ham United games and even visited the Boleyn pub where he socialised with the West Ham fans while drinking cream soda! He already had a strong connection to West Ham United through his friendship with its founder Arnold Hills (owner of the Thames Iron Works, where West Ham United originated) while he was living in London completing his law studies in 1888/1889,” states Roberts’ historic account.
The book traces football’s complicated relationship with alcohol through the experiences of the players and other experiential and historical accounts.
While tracing the role of pubs as a site for football fans to form a community of their own, Gandhi’s cameo appearance would have been encountered by Roberts. As his historical accounts are well supported by recorded evidence, it does seem likely that the Mahatma was indeed fond of the club.