ISL Diary: Let there be light

When there was a period of lax play, in the match between Chennaiyin FC and FC Pune City, theChennai crowd livened upthe atmosphere by shining the light from their mobile phones.

A view of the Chennaiyin FC fans at their team's match against FC Pune in Chennai.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

FC Goa goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani with coach Zico after the match against Kerala Blasters in Fatorda.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

Like the famous Biblical phrase, there definitely was light at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai, in the October 24 match between Chennaiyin FC and FC Pune City. Bernard Mendy and Stiven Mendoza were the stars in the home team’s victory over Pune, but it was the fans who shone the brightest that night. During the second half, when the game slowed down to a lazy tempo, the fans upped the atmosphere by shining their mobile phone lights from their seats.

But sometimes, the act of switching on phone torches has more significance than just exciting the crowd.

At the English League Cup clash between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on October 27, the visitors’ fans stuck out their hand-held devices in support of steel workers.

After SSI’s plant in the seaside town of Redcar was mothballed with its Thai-based owner going into liquidation, there was a loss of nearly 2,200 jobs. The Boro supporters held up mobile phones in a show of support for the workers as they pulled off a massive upset at the Theatre of Dreams, making it through to the final eight.

Now back to home base. The Chennaiyin FC’s public announcer, realising a dip in enthusiasm in the crowd, egged them to show their support using their mobile phones. And it certainly did work.

The crowd regained their boisterousness and became vocal again, which had a very positive trickle-down effect; it gave the players the kick required and the tempo of the match returned to full throttle.

Unfortunately for the home fans, it gave Pune the impetus to halve the deficit through Kale Uche in the 74th minute. However, all’s well that ends well as Chennaiyin held on for a much-needed victory.

FanATK to challenge the fan base of traditional biggies

Looking for a support base in Kolkata’s football firmament, which sees the loyalty clearly split between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, is like the jailer in the 1972 blockbuster ‘Sholay’ ordering “the rest follow me”, in a famous quip.

Atletico de Kolkata is placed in a similar situation like the movie character played by noted comedian Asrani, who in a moment of stupidity orders the two halves of his platoon to disperse in either direction and walks forward asking the non-existent “rest” to follow him.

Such a preposterous situation needed a practical solution which came in opening up the membership with a glut of incentives. Having boosted the numbers in the galleries by distributing complimentary passes in the past season, the city franchise felt the need to have a dedicated legion of supporters by launching ‘FanATK’ to literally fan the fervour ahead of the season. The idea was realised through the announcement of a FanATK membership for the season for a paltry sum of Rs. 800.

The official allegiance would entail free tickets for all the seven home matches and a jersey. All the members would be accommodated in the same gallery for the home players to rush to and celebrate a goal. The first home game against Kerala Blasters FC provided this opportunity as Arata Izumi and Javi Lara did the celebratory dance for the FanATKs to reciprocate with the waving of flags and the lending of their voice to the celebration. The start was an auspicious one considering ATK won 2-1 much to the delight of around 61,000-strong crowd that had come to see the match.

Zico’s praise for Kattimani

It is not every day that you earn praise from a legend. The FC Goa goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani was over the moon the other day in Margao when Brazilian legend and FC Goa’s coach Zico acknowledged his superb performance under the bar.

“It was a wonderful performance from my goalkeeper Kattimani. He made a few good saves and helped us stay alive in the match. He held the team together when it was really tough for the other players in the middle. I always had faith in his abilities and today he contributed to an important win,’’ said Zico. The Brazilian had given Kattimani the goalkeeping duties in the ISL after the form of first choice goalkeeper Elinton Andrade was unconvincing. And Kattimani has stood up to the task admirably and repaid his coach’s faith in him.

Kattimani, who plays for Dempo Goa in the I-league, said Zico’s comment was a huge motivation for him. “It is nice to hear praise from someone who is a legend. I am thrilled and happy that I could play an important role in my team’s win. They (Kerala Blasters) had put us under a lot of pressure. It was important not to concede more goals. I think both Gregory Arnolin and Luciano Sabrosa were good at the back and it gave me confidence to go for the high balls,’’ said Kattimani. “We are missing several key players due to injuries. But the good thing about this team is that the other players have stepped up and accepted their role in the team. It is a long tournament. I am focused on the job in hand. The win was important for us today. I hope to continue my work,” the goalkeeper added.

The 26-year-old Kattimani brought off a string of saves to keep his side in the game as Kerala Blasters threatened to run away with the match. Though he was beaten once when Rafi sneaked in a header in the 24th minute, Kattimani proved to be a tough nut to crack in the remaining minutes. In the 40th minute he tipped away a dangerous floater from India international Cavin Lobo. Kattimani stood tall to baulk the Blasters when the Kochi side dominated the proceedings initially in the second half. Blasters’ striker Sanchez Watts thought he had scored when he connected a low centre from Shankar. But Kattimani made a reflex save to deny the Englishman. In the dying minutes Kattimani thwarted C. K. Vineeth with another reflex save as the Goans snatched full points.

For thousands of Goan supporters who were in the stadium, Kattimani was the real hero of the win even though Leonardo da Silva Moura walked away with the Man of the Match award.

— Amrit Ramakrishnan, Amitabha Das Sharma andPraveen Chandran

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