Kanteerava bounces as Bengaluru announce themselves to the ISL
Everything was different about the way things went at the Kanteerava as Bengaluru FC (BFC) cruised to a 2-0 win over Mumbai City FC in their first game in the Indian Super League.
The usually intimate Kanteerava, made up of about 8,000 fans on average, became intimidating on the night as 17,700 fans turned up to watch BFC open their latest chapter. This was the third best turnout at the Kanteerava in three years since BFC made it their home. It wasn't just about the West Block (the most populated stand on most BFC match days) on Sunday, it was about the north, the south and the rest.
"We want our fans to come like this in every game. They make a difference. If Bengaluru is not a football city, it's about time to change that," Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who was quiet on the night said after the game.
When Eduardo Garcia put the team ahead in the 67th minute, he slid in and celebrated in front of the stand opposite the West Block. It was the Spaniard's BFC debut, and unlike Sunil Chhetri, who went to the West Block automatically to celebrate the second goal, Garcia went with the sound, by now reverberating across all stands. It's only the first game, but it already showed how the ISL has brought instant awareness about BFC as a football club to the city.
Scenes outside the stadium also seemed new -- jerseys being sold, 20 or so men painting blue and white colours across fans' faces, headbands that read "Bengaluru FC" being distributed and big, blue flags with the BFC logo visible everywhere. Jerseys being sold outside the Kanteerava was a first.
An hour before kick-off one could sense the anticipation. A long line for tickets, fans wearing the blue of BFC rushing in -- some panicking, some just sprinting. The ISL festivity and rush was also visible inside the stadium, where it used to be a laidback atmosphere on I-League match days. Many were struggling to find the right gate. "We don't know the gates. It's so hectic today. We have to rush to other side," said one fan.
Then there was a live dance performance, a VR gaming console stand, a gazillion more organisers than you would normally see, and more policeman than ever before.
In the stands there was an unlikely occurrence. Apart from the blue flags, there were also red and yellow ones -- the colours of the Karnataka state flag. Two of the biggest banners were written in the local language, Kannada. One had the state's national song on it, the other were words of encouragement to the players. BFC were not just trying to connect to a niche group of fans, but to the whole city.
"It is very important for the club, it is very important for the city. It is important for the city for them to come again. Our relationship with the supporters and team is more and more close. We just have to make sure they are coming here because we are playing good, we are winning. That's what we will try to do," Albert Roca said after the game.
After a long time, it felt like it wasn't just the West Block bouncing at the Kanteerava; the city of Bengaluru was. It was the ISL, but it felt more like the IPL.