Meet the Leeds United fan from Mumbai, India, 'fulfilling his dream' as he heads to watch beloved Whites

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Abhinav Shukla had every reason to give up on supporting Leeds following their relegation from the Premiership in 2004.

But despite other football fans like him in India jumping ship readily when their teams faced hardship and the difficulty he had following Leeds after that devastating season (and the gloomy years that followed), Abhinav has remained a devout follower of the Whites, becoming renowned among friends and family in Mumbai and further afield for his support.

Now after visiting Elland Road for the first time in May this year while on a business trip to the UK, he is looking forward to heading to Leeds properly for the first time in his life in October and going to two games, which he says will be a “dream come true”.

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Abhinav began following the club in the early 2000s when they were flying high and the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler and Paul Robinson were starting for them. He said that he and other young men of his generation began following English football when the games started being broadcast for the first time in India during the late 1990s and, naturally, the teams that coveted the most success built up the biggest fan bases in the vast country.

Abhinav Shukla with his wife and son, who have joined him in his Leeds fandom.Abhinav Shukla with his wife and son, who have joined him in his Leeds fandom.
Abhinav Shukla with his wife and son, who have joined him in his Leeds fandom.

But while others latched on to Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Abhinav has no regrets with choosing to follow Leeds United.

He said: “It’s a game of great passion and people picked a team that would give them that feeling of winning. I was no different. Leeds were riding a wave and doing great at the time.

"The Yorkshire rose also carries a lot of symbolism for me as I lived in a place with a lot of roses and flowers. For the 14-year-old me it was an easy decision.”

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Abhinav, now 37, said he was able to follow Leeds closely for the next few years as the Premiership was covered closely in India, saying: “That’s how the love affair started.”

Abhinav Shukla during his first and so-far only visit to Elland Road in May.Abhinav Shukla during his first and so-far only visit to Elland Road in May.
Abhinav Shukla during his first and so-far only visit to Elland Road in May.

However, despite the difficulty he had in following the team’s fortunes after they were relegated from the Premiership in 2004, he said his “fandom matured” and he went to great difficulties to keep up to date.

He said: “I very clearly remember the day they got relegated. It was the first time I felt I really belonged to the club, even though they were 10,000km away.

"I had to dig a lot deeper to keep up to date after that. I would scour the internet and listen to live commentary on the radio. I started working as a software engineer and could get on the Yorkshire Evening Post to follow what was happening.”

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Abhinav said that he kitted out his work desk with Leeds memorabilia and would advertise the latest scores to his colleagues.

Abhinav Shukla has become known among his colleagues in Mumbai, India, for his love of Leeds United.Abhinav Shukla has become known among his colleagues in Mumbai, India, for his love of Leeds United.
Abhinav Shukla has become known among his colleagues in Mumbai, India, for his love of Leeds United.

He said: “Pretty much everyone I worked with knew me for it.

"It became part of my personality. It was easy to remember because people had never met a Leeds United fan before.

"Even when I called up people in New York I was working on a project with they’d ask ‘how are your Leeds doing?’”

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He said that sticking with Leeds over the last 20 years had been “bittersweet”, saying: “It’s been bitter a lot of the time but more sweet as of late.”

Abhinav was finally able to pay a visit to Leeds in May of this year while on a business trip to the UK but was unable to catch a game as they were playing away at the time.

He said: “I still went to Elland Road and walked around the city centre to soak up the atmosphere when the game was on.

"It was very emotional for me. I called my wife and my son. I called people who know my fandom for Leeds. I called my brother and parents to tell them I’m here right now.”

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Abhinav, who now works in sports marketing, has booked a trip to the city next month where he plans on “fulfilling my lifetime dream” of watching Leeds play at Elland Road when they face Huddersfield Town on October 28. He said: “I want to watch the match in the stands with the tribe. I’ve been in touch with the ticket office and they have said they will organise a tour around the ground beforehand as well.

"I also want to go to Stoke away but that will be trickier. Even if I can’t get in the crowd I will go in the Stoke end and just have to avoid wearing a Leeds scarf or showing my support too much.”

He said that he plans on increasing the Leeds United fanbase in India by one as well, saying: “My four-year-old son Avyaan doesn’t know it but he’s a Leeds United supporter.”