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The Highlander Brigade: The Flag Bearers of Football Culture in the North-East

If I have to define Highlander Brigade, I’d call it a community of football fans who are different than the mainstream audience of Indian Football and has goals quite unfathomable to the understanding of an ‘ordinary fan’. How different? Well, let us start from the beginning. Our roots are embedded in our love for football, our culture and our team, NEUFC. Our club North East United FC plays in the Indian Super League and represents the 8 states of the North East Region of India. The culture, the language, the ideas are somewhat different in the north east as compared to the mainland of India. While the country follows the sport of cricket avidly, football has a mass appeal in the North East. The Indian National Team throughout the various age groups feature a huge talent pool of footballers from the North East. It is a known fact that Football is ingrained in the people here and for NEUFC to represent all of the 8 states of the region was a major boost for Football and subsequent fan culture in the North East.

It all began as an idea. An idea to unite all the NEUFC fans through a WhatsApp group chat and soon that idea evolved and formed the structure that could represent the fans in the stands. With a WhatsApp group of 30 or so members and a Facebook page named, ‘NorthEast United Fans’, we began and along with time we got more and more people involved in this venture. Soon, our main goal became to convert from the realm of Social Media to the Stands of the Stadium. And therefore, right before the commencement of the fourth edition of the Indian Super League, on 5th of November, 2017, a ragtag team of 18-20 people worked together, made banners and the name ‘Highlander Brigade’ was coined. Soon this ragtag band of people managed to garner attention throughout the fan spectrum and gain members throughout the country. From one WhatsApp group, we expanded to three and many more as we expanded and became more organized. Even the lacklustre performance of the team that season couldn’t dampen the spirits of the members. We now had a Banner and Creative Team, Chant Team, On-Field Supervising Team, Social Media Team, Finance Team and we continued to grow exponentially.

Then came the 2018-19 season, NEUFC under Eelco Schatorrie took flight as the team reached its maiden playoffs, with notable performances from the whole team. And along with the team, Highlander Brigade earned its limelight. From the countless tiring hours under the sun to make banners to all the preparations, right from the brainstorming sessions to come up with chants to the band march and corteo during Match Days, the Brigade was making big moves and was being recognized throughout the Indian Football scene. We were no longer just some fans united with common goals and interests. We understood we had to expand and rise above individual ideas and focus on a united front of inclusion that would help push the Brigade towards the fulfillment of its goals. We discovered a huge spike in our numbers as our member count grew and our socials boomed. We became influencers with a proper following and it was a responsibility as well as a privilege to become the face of the huge fan base that the club has.

Even during the off-season, the Brigade exponentially invested into being productive. A certain number of activities took place ranging from Gaming Events including FIFA and PES tournaments, a local football tournament, a flood relief campaign and charity event for flood affected regions of Assam and we have many more such plans and ideas in the oven. Since we are an independent Supporters’ Club, we are financed through voluntary donations from our members and we have invested into other ventures such as setting up our own merchandise shop so that we are self sufficient enough to invest thoroughly in all the features and highlights that the stands should have in a football match.

(Source: ISL Media)

Now, we have come at a point where we are automatically associated to the club if you say the word ‘Fans of the North-East’. But to be honest, we are not quite there yet. Football in India although has developed significantly, it still has a long way to go. Similarly, the Fan culture in India has to go through a tremendous change. The supporters of a team provide a huge impact and if we can cultivate the means and the strength to develop as a proper unit behind the team, then only we can be what we want us to be. Highlander Brigade has come a long way but we have miles to go before we sleep. We have to work tirelessly to cultivate the feeling that it is not just a football game. The Football scene in India is very cumbersome where the ‘fans’ are just mere spectators who are often mute and are in front of a TV screen. So as a Supporters’ Club it is our duty to teach our people how to actually indulge in the complexities of a proper Football Fan Culture and how it is so much more that just watching a football match. Our plan is to change how people see this beautiful sport and revolutionize the way we harvest the various emotions that all of us feel right to our very bones. And in the pursuit of our goals we have discovered a community with a potential to do so much more for the society. When the spotlight is on us in and off the stands, it is our duty to properly represent our culture and our identity. We are a proper family with different individualistic traits and we promote brotherhood to the very core. Throughout these years, our goals evolved and remain ever changing and I believe we have come a long way and never realized the exact moment when we became more than just some fans supporting their local team. We may have struggled at some point, we may have had odd and off putting feelings lingering around us, pestering us with stupendous amount of questions and doubts. But we remained united in our approach and successfully developed a strong community.

We carry on forward leaping over hurdles, climbing over achievements one after the other. We met a lot of people and lost some on the way but now we are proud to say we are all in it together. We are the flag bearer of Fan Culture in the North-East and ‘We Walk Through This Together’ whatever be the obstacle, whatever be the reason.

Thank you for reading!

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