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Meet Indian Gymkhana, London’s Longest-Standing Diaspora Sports Club

With Indian diasporas some of the longest-standing communities in Britain, it’s little wonder they have one of the oldest diaspora clubs. We spoke to two volunteers at Indian Gymkhana about the club’s handling of its cultural milieu.
Photos provided by Indian Gymkhana

In many cases, immigrant communities in the United Kingdom now go back several generations. With cultural influences from all over the world converging in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, those communities are now reflected in the fundamental fabric of British life. One way in which the contemporary character of society is made manifest is through the medium of football, with teams from our domestic top tiers to the lowest echelons of the grassroots game attesting to the heterogeneous, multiethnic nature of modern Britain. Some of those teams wear the colours of a diaspora football club; a club which can trace its heritage to a nation, region or people overseas.


There are diaspora football clubs up and down the UK, varying wildly in size, support, finances and following. What they all have in common, however, is a distinct cultural heritage, and an identity that reflects entwined roots in this country and elsewhere. In an effort to explore these identities further, we've spoken with coaches, players and founding members of diaspora clubs with a wide range of different backgrounds. You can read the rest of our diaspora series here.

When Indian Gymkhana was first established a century ago, it was a cricket club for expatriates living away from the so-called 'Jewel In The Crown'. It was founded in 1916, making it one of the oldest diaspora sports club in Britain; the club is currently celebrating its centenary year. Back then, many of its patrons and players were members of the Indian aristocracy, sons of maharajas and nawabs from the beating heart of the British Empire. Amongst its founders and financial guarantors were the Maharajas of Patiala, Kapurthala, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Cooch Behar and Indor, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Yorkshire cricketing grandee Lord Hawke and the businessman and hotelier Sir Victor Sassoon.

The club found a home in leafy west London, in the quiet suburbia of Osterley. While all of its early members would have come from British-ruled regions, not all of them were from what we now call India. Some came from Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), providing the club with a wide range of ethnic, cultural and religious influences. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus have played for Indian Gymkhana, with the minority religions of the Indian subcontinent also doubtlessly represented over the years. As such, the club has always been a relative milieu, and has built on that sense of diversity in the modern age.


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In the decades after it was first founded, the character of the club changed somewhat. It began to welcome people of all backgrounds, creeds and classes, and started to remodel itself as a multiracial sports club, even if it continued to proudly preserve its Indian heritage. While the cricket and hockey teams of its early days are still going strong, the club now boasts both senior and junior football set ups. The beautiful game has become increasingly popular amongst the various Indian diasporas, as reflected in the burgeoning teams that represent Indian Gymkhana today.

Indian Gymkhana's senior football team, Gymkhana FC, first started playing in the early 1980s. That seems to be when football really took off in Asian communities, fuelled largely by second-generation Asians who had grown up alongside British football fans, as opposed to India's cricket devotees. As the team became more organised and was fully incorporated into the structure of the sports club, it began to grow and thrive accordingly. The senior team now competes in the Middlesex County Football League, in English football's 11th tier.

Alongside the seniors, the youth teams seem to be thriving. Speaking to coach Joginder Liddar, the sense of optimism and enthusiasm around the club is apparent in abundance. Joginder tells me that there has been huge demand for joining the youth sides, with the teams he coaches seeing a significant increase in participants over the past couple of years. He tells me there are now around 90 kids registered with Indian Gymkhana's football youth wing, with three boys' teams and a girls' team now up and running.


According to Joginder, Indian Gymkhana is the first Asian football club in Britain to set up a girls' team. He emphasises courtesy, equality and inclusivity as his main behavioural demands as a coach, and says he is determined to see girls and boys get the same opportunities at the club. "We're a family club," he says. "We all want to get together, we all want to get on with one another. Everyone has to show respect for their teammates, and there's no discrimination between the boys and the girls – I make sure there's none."

The same goes for kids from different cultural backgrounds, with respect seemingly the club's byword. Girls and boys train together, as do Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and kids of other religious denominations. Indian Gymkhana welcomes anyone to join the club, and Joginder tells me that the youth teams aren't limited to children of Asian heritage. That sense of togetherness is reflected in results. "We're not just building teams for the fun of it," Joginder says. "We are competing against the best, and showing that we can be the best as well."

When it comes to his ambitions for the football youth wing, Joginder tells me that he wants to produce a Premier League footballer. "That's my five-year plan," Joginder says. "It's like a project for me, even if we have to go some way towards implementing it fully." British Asians are remarkably underrepresented in the top flight, and English league football in general. If Indian Gymkhana could produce the nation's next top Asian footballer, it would be a monumental success for the club.


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For the senior team, ambitions of top-tier stardom are perhaps a bit lofty, as things stand. They are currently mid-table in the Middlesex County Premier Division, looking up at fellow diaspora clubs FC Assyria and FC Deportivo Galicia, whose roots lie in the Middle East and northwestern Spain respectively. To get a perspective on the senior set up, I speak to Rickey Gill, a former player with Gymkhana FC and a backroom volunteer with the side. He tells me that, although the lads have made a relatively slow start in the league this season, Gymkhana's ambitions go beyond merely facilitating success for the men's first team.

"We've had a bit of a transitional period for the last few years," Rickey says. The club changed managers not too long ago and sought to instigate a slightly different brand of football, meaning the first team are apparently still having to adjust. When I ask whether Gymkhana are looking for promotion in the near future, Rickey explains that the club's ambitions are somewhat broader. "Of course we want to push the team up the divisions, but then a lot more is required of us in terms of time, finances, volunteers and the like. It means the players have to be committed to that extra bit of travelling, to training more and putting in those extra hours. I think we're at a bit of a crossroads as to our direction in that sense, and as to what we actually want as a club. One thing I know that we definitely want is to keep on developing our youth sides and, for me personally, I think the next step for the club should be to have a women's side playing under our badge.

"I suppose we want to spread the club sideways, as opposed to just concentrating on the first team," Rickey adds. "In the past, the focus has mainly been on the men's adult team. We now need to take a little side step, I think, and cater for the other people who might be available for us as a club."

In their efforts to grow a dual-gender youth wing, Gymkhana FC are laying the foundations for their own senior sides. Whether or not the men's seniors go on to tear up the 11th tier this season or not, the club's commitment to its grassroots should see them right over the next few years. With space to expand the youth set up in the future, the club could have a conveyor belt of young talent to fill their senior teams, and perhaps go further. Who knows, it might not be long before a former star of Indian Gymkhana is turning professional, whether that's in the Premier League or the Women's Super League.

Indian Gymkhana are closely supported by Sporting Equals. Read more articles on diaspora football clubs here.