‘It’s coming home’: Indian expats welcome England to team hotel in Qatar

England’s footballers were greeted by the bizarre but joyous sight of hundreds of Indian expats serenading them with “It’s coming home” as they arrived at their hotel in Qatar on Tuesday evening.

As the England coach pulled into the five-star Souq Al Wakra hotel just south of Doha, the fans banged drums, blew trumpets and even crashed through a police barrier to get a better view. There were loud cheers for the captain, Harry Kane, and an even bigger one for Gareth Southgate, especially when the manager turned to wave.

There were also familiar chants of “England! England!” as well as the rather unusual “Southgate is our super coach! Sterling is our super star! Pickford is our super keeper”.

It was another sign that this World Cup, the first in the Middle East and the first to be held in winter, will be very different to the 21 tournaments that have come before it.

There have been suggestions on social media that some locals are being paid by the Qataris to add a dash of spice, but the half a dozen or so fans the Guardian spoke to promised they were the real deal. They insisted they made their own jerseys, bought their own tickets to the games and supported England having grown up watching players such as David Beckham.

They were also happy to talk about the latest developments in the Premier League – and were clearly unhappy that a Scandinavian newspaper at the weekend had questioned their authenticity.

Sajidh, a 29-year-old mechanical engineer who did not want to give his full name, described suggestions that he and the others were receiving cash to be cheerleaders as “fake news”. He said:“None of us is getting paid. We are diehard England fans.

“My favourite player was Beckham but now it is [Bukayo] Saka. If someone offered to pay us to support England we would turn them down. We are genuine supporters. Many of us grew up watching Beckham and Michael Owen. Our love is to this team.”

Another fan, Niyas, from Kerala, estimated that there were 700,000 fans in his region back home and he showed the Guardian an 80ft cardboard cutout of Kane and a mural of the England team in his home state. He also showed a WhatsApp group of supporters with nearly 1,000 members.

“We made these England tops ourselves,” he said. “No one gave them to us. Argentina is the most supported team among Indians in Qatar, followed by Brazil. But then it is England.”

As the England squad touched down, Kane insisted everyone was match fit and ready for the first game against Iran on Monday. “It’s going to be massive,” he said.

“I remember when we were out in Russia in our own little bubble. We saw all the videos from back home going crazy – it makes a big difference, it motivates us to be successful.

“We want to make the fans proud and happy. Of course, there will be some in the stadiums – we always have great support – but most will be at home and we just want to make them proud.”