Life can be really difficult when you are an ‘away-team’ fan arriving in Kochi’s Nehru Stadium for a Kerala Blasters match in the Indian Super League.
Ivan Vukomanovic, the Blasters head coach, gave a hint of what could be running in the mind of an away fan in Kochi.
“Let’s be honest, when you as an away-team fan arrive in a stadium of 35,000 or 40,000 people and when you are not even in hundreds, then you feel insecure, you feel intimidated, especially when you come and play in Kochi,” said the Serb whose team is enjoying a wonderful winning streak in the ISL.
“We all know what kind of atmosphere awaits you here. Of course, it will be hot because, as the home team and home supporters we know how they support Kerala Blasters. So, I’m very sorry if there were any unpredictable things, or ugly things, but you know their emotions and I hope everybody is safe. I hope all the fans will behave well and everybody will be okay.”
He said the feeling is sort of magical for the Blasters players when they see huge crowds turn up to cheer them at home.
“We are so pleased and happy when we see the yellow sea around, especially the feeling when we go out of the tunnel, it’s priceless. We like to give everything for them. Of course, away-team supporters know that when they are coming to Kochi it will be all about the Kerala Blasters supporters because the game is in Kochi. That’s how it is in football.”
But things have gone a little too far, as one recent match showed.
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The Blasters club officials have now decided to impose a fine of Rs. 5 lakh on pitch invaders. That had been an issue in a few recent Blasters home games in Kochi.
“Action — including a fine of Rs. 5 lakh and a ban on matches — will be taken against individuals who cause injury or threaten the safety of players and officials in coming matches,” said the Blasters statement.
Just like in any other sport, the last couple of years have been challenging for Mumbai’s football fans. Since the two previous editions of the Indian Super League were held in a bio-bubble, there were restrictions on fans entering the stadium.
But this year, things are different. Every time Mumbai City FC plays its home games at the Mumbai Football Arena, located in one of the busiest areas of Andheri, thousands of local fans throng the stadium.
In 2020-2021, Mumbai City FC became the first club in the history of the ISL to do a double by winning the League Shield and trophy. However, the following season the Islanders couldn’t manage to break into the top-four at the end of the season.
And, this time around, fans like those of the West Coast Brigade have made it a point to cheer for the team every time Des Buckingham’s men take the pitch.
“The Mumbai Football Arena is a smaller stadium and the pitch is closer. You can easily read the game from that close. It’s easier to create a vibe with our chants. From inception to winning the double, it has been a great journey. It’s very difficult to express in words,” Anand, a die-hard Mumbai City FC fan, said.
The return of home games have been marked with chants, a team bus welcome, and a flare show. The fans have also added a march from one end of the arena to the other.
“We are having a full house for most of the games this time and fans are excited to be back in the stadiums and cheer for their favourite players. Mumbai fans had missed out on all the action for two years and now they are cherishing each and every bit of it,” a Mumbai City FC official said.
After watching the proceedings on television over the last two seasons, the West Coast Brigade is happy to be back to its den. And they want to make every moment memorable!
Stan Rayan and Shayan Acharya
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