Indian Premier League

When you think about India and sport, you invariably think about cricket - Varun Issar is trying to change that.

A lawyer from the city of Chandigarh - the joint capital of the states of Haryana and Punjab in the far north of India - Issar has supported West Ham United since the age of 12.

Now 24, he is part of a small but growing group of Hammers fans in a country that is home to 1.2 billion people.

"For half of my life I have been a proud Hammer," confirmed Issar. "I don't support any other clubs, so it is only West Ham for me. If you talk about cricket, then I support my local Indian Premier League team, Kings XI Punjab, who are based in my city.

"I am a member of the fan website of where I actively participate under the name INDIAN HAMMER. I was joined on there by another Hammer from India, which was very encouraging.

"Our online presence leaves a lot to be desired, but around me I know around ten supporters who follow West Ham, some of whom are my cousins.

"Unfortunately I haven't been able to go to any matches yet, but it is my dream to come to the Boleyn Ground. I have bought shirts and jackets online, which I wear when I'm out and about with my friends, so I am not a passive supporter!"

As is the case in many countries, Issar confirmed that the Barclays Premier League's established clubs attract the majority of supporters in India.

"I have come across very few people in India who support West Ham. On the other hand, you will find a plethora of supporters of clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.

"I watch English football on television with my friends a lot, be it with supporters of different clubs or with my fellow Hammers."

"I am going to surprise you, but the Premier League is massive here. I am not mincing any words but you have to be here to see it. Star Sports and ESPN show the Premier League matches live and been doing so for more than a decade now. Ten sports shows Scottish Premier League and a few select Championship matches live, NEO Sports shows Bundesliga and Serie A live, while Ten Action screens UEFA Champions League and Dutch League matches live.

"If so much football is being shown and broadcasters are making money, it says how highly football is regarded and how popular it is in India."

Varun Issar (top right) and his football-playing friends

Hammers fan Varun Issar (top right) and his football-playing friends

Unfortunately, the popularity of European football has yet to translate into sustained success for India's own footballers.

Plans for a big-money Premier League Soccer competition featuring stars including FIFA World Cup winners Fabio Cannavaro and Robert Pires were postponed due to a lack of suitable stadia earlier this year, but the sport already has a national presence.

The nationwide I-League is one of the most popular sports competitions in India, while football is played widely in the states of West Bengal, Goa and Kerala and across the north-east of the country.

However, the national team continues to struggle for consistency, finishing bottom of their group at the recent AFC Challenge Cup behind North Korea, Philippines and Tajikistan.

Ranked 169 in the world, India were knocked out of that 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at the first attempt, losing 5-2 on aggregate to United Arab Emirates.

However, the appointment of former Netherlands international Wim Koevermans as the new national team coach and the establishment of football schools in the country by Spanish giants FC Barcelona suggest a brighter future.

At the same time, Issar predicts clubs like West Ham will only get more popular as the sport continues to grow in India.

"Football is looked forward to by millions of people in India," confirmed Issar "You will soon find India is the market to be in with the interest and it's basically a level playing field where you can compete with other clubs for fanbase and revenue.

"There are more than a billion people in India, so even if a million get hooked on West Ham it would be amazing for the club."