ISL diary: Trouble in Chennai for FC Goa

The Chennaiyin FC faithful, revelling in an unbelievable 4-0 lead at home, untied one of the banners put up by FC Goa fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and let it fall.

The official attendance for the Chennaiyin FC versus FC Goa match on February 29 was 17,915 — the highest at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in almost two years.   -  Special Arrangement

It has been more than a year since the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai has seen fans walk in in large numbers. The performances under John Gregory were poor, the team lost its charm and supporters preferred to stay away.

Under new coach Owen Coyle, the resurgence was almost complete when Chennaiyin FC defeated table topper and title favourite FC Goa 4-1 in the semifinal first leg at home. And the official attendance for that match was 17,915 — the highest in almost two years.

The sudden influx of fans probably led to the chaos that happened in the stands and outside the stadium post-game on February 29.

First, there was confusion during the match at the away end. Goa, as always, had a faithful following away from home who put up a few banners displaying their love for their team.

The home faithful, revelling in an unbelievable 4-0 lead, untied one of the Goan banners and let it fall. Before both sets of fans could come to blows, a few stewards stepped in to diffuse the situation.

However, the language barrier and tension from the game meant neither party could be controlled and the away fans, in frustration, left before the final whistle.

Minutes after the end of the game, there was more drama outside the stadium — this time for the home fans. Revelling in the win and wanting to show their support for the players — who were seated inside the team bus — they brought out banners and started chanting.

Despite having permission from the club to click a few pictures with the players, the fans were allegedly dragged away by the authorities.

“We normally stand near the team bus after each game to send them off. After which we leave. We were doing the same but the police did not allow us anywhere near the team bus,” said a regular attendee.

“Some of us standing inside the gate… The police wanted to send us out. And we were carrying heavy banners! They began dragging people out and manhandling us and said this was them talking ‘decently’ with us,” this person said.

Similar incidents have been reported across other football games in the country, most recently in India’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh last year.

The Indian authorities’ lack of understanding of the fan cultures in the sport is laid bare with each reported incident, and without the freedom to express themselves, fans might soon prefer to stay away altogether.

FC Goa finished on top of the ISL table at the end of the league phase with 39 points from 18 matches, scoring a record 46 goals in the process.


FC Goa first Indian club to directly qualify for AFC Champions League

FC Goa became the first Indian club to secure direct entry into the AFC Champions League group stage as the Indian Super League (ISL) league phase winner.

The decision to grant the ISL table topper a Champions League group stage berth was finalised after the number of teams in the 2021 AFC Asian Cup was increased to 40 from the previous 32. Earlier, the ISL winner was granted a place in the AFC Cup preliminary round, the cup competition a tier below the AFC Champions League.

Goa finished at the top of the ISL league with 39 points from 18 matches, scoring a record 46 goals in the process. The team received the League Winners Shield and a cash prize of ₹50 lakh at its home leg of the semifinal playoffs.

According to the new Indian football roadmap, the I-League winner will get direct entry into the 2021 AFC Cup.