danny tanveer batth, leader ot the wolves' pack, wants to be a 'Blue Tiger'

LAST YEAR, Danny Tanveer Batth was vacationing in India when he met national football coach Stephan Constantine. Batth, a central defender and captain of English football club Wolverhampton Wanderers, was hoping to find a spot on the Indian team.  Born to an English mother and Indian father, the 27-year-old thought he was eligible. But then, he came to know that he would have to give up his British passport and stay in India for a year to qualify.

Batth finally chose to stay back, and honour his commitment to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Last week, any doubts he may have had about that decision vanished, when the “Wolves” secured promotion to the Premier League, the English top flight, for the first time in the last six years.  “Indian supporters don’t really have many players in the Premier League with an Indian background to watch, so hopefully they’ll be proud to have one now. I am hoping more and more people become aware of me and my football in India,” says Batth.  “Things change over time, and if they were to feel that they could change some way of ruling like every other country, then I might have an opportunity then,” he says. “So I’m not going to rule it out.”

In Wolverhampton, Batth had long emerged as a fan favourite, particularly with the Indian population in the city. Batth’s roots trace back to Ludhiana, which has kept him in the spotlight for a local supporters group dubbed the ‘Punjabi Wolves’.  “There’s a lot of English-Indian Wolves fans who travel home and away for most of the games,” Batth says. “They don’t really have a slogan that they sing for me, but they’re definitely the loudest in the stadium,” he said.

There was a lot to cheer about this season, as the Wolves put on a show that saw them win England’s second division Championship title with four games to spare—a sharp contrast to the 15th position, out of 24 teams, last time.  “Wolverhampton has only one football club. So when Wolves plays and Wolves wins, the whole city celebrates,” he says. “Getting promoted means the whole area gets to enjoy it. These last few days have had a carnival feel to it.”

Deep connection
His own connection with the club is 17 years old. Born in the town of Brierley Hill, just 15 km away from Wolves’ home base Molineux Stadium, he joined the club’s youth academy when he was 10. But it was his father Balbir though, through whom Batth inherited his love for the Wolves.  Back in the early 1970s, Balbir was 12 when he settled in the nearby village of Great Bridge with his family. It was there that the senior Batth took a strong liking to the game, and played for a local club in Wolverhampton before finding work.  “He used to work at a market for some years, selling fashion clothes,” says Batth. “Then he set up his own sports goods store, which is where I got my first boots from. But he was always a Wolves fan. I too was obsessed with football. I’d go to bed watching matches, and it was always about the Wolves.”

Supporting the city’s only Premier League club has been a tradition in the Batth family, just like Diwali. “Fireworks are the best,” Batth says.  The 2017-18 season for the club though will be remembered in the way they celebrated an unforeseen, attacking, free-flowing brand of football that took them to the top. The Birmingham Mail reported that “the fact Wolves are playing one-touch football with flair and venom is a sight dragging Wolves fans back to Molineux, week in and week out”.

It was the same strategy they applied when they became the first team to earn a clean sheet against the recently crowned Premier League champions Manchester City, during their fourth round English Football League Cup tie in October.  “That’s the way the manager set us up to play so that it won’t be too much of a change for us going from the Championship to the Premier League,” he says. “Now we have a year’s experience of doing it and the next season we’ll be even better.”  The same style will be on display on millions of TV screens in India when the Premier League starts in August, and viewers will watch a top flight team being led out to the field by a player of Indian heritage. A player who still holds hopes to find a way to play for both the Wolves and ‘Blue Tigers’, as the Indian national football team is tagged.