‘We are back’, said a huge banner from the Kerala Blasters fans at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi as the Indian Super League returned to a home-and-away format this season after being in Goa, a neutral venue, for the last two years owing to fears over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fans in Kochi, where the ISL started this year, marked the occasion by painting their faces, singing loudly, and forming a sea of yellow.
Tickets were sold out days before the match, there was a big rush to the stadium, and Blasters T-shirts sold like hot cakes outside the stadium.
And with the Blasters winning the opener against East Bengal 3-1, the celebrations went late into the night.
“I’m really grateful for this kind of atmosphere from the fans, it was priceless,” said the Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic.
“It is a huge help when you have this kind of support especially when you are giving everything on the pitch. Actually, these fans they can push you…and you have to give everything on the pitch, the last drop of your sweat.”
ISL 2022-23 – Kerala Blasters 3-1 East Bengal highlights
The Blasters have the biggest fan base in the ISL and the fans will be very happy to hear that.
Chennai too, makes some noise
Chennaiyin FC returned to its home stadium, the Marina Arena, for the first time in 958 days, after the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. It was a night of colours, songs and a return of familiar faces on the pitch and in the stands. One familiar face was that of co-owner Abhishek Bachchan in an unfamiliar role. Abhishek stepped onto the sidelines and took over the PA system to read out the names of the Chennaiyin players in the match-day squad, to loud cheers from the local supporters.
The loudest fanfare was reserved for skipper Anirudh Thapa, the Dehradun-born footballer, who is into his seventh full season with Chennaiyin alongside Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, the only two players remaining in the squad back from 2020.
Vyasuddin bhai selling Mumbai City FC t-shirts at the Mumbai Football Arena. “Our club is Mumbai’s pride. It is not just a club for me, but my source of livelihood,” says Vyasuddin.
| Photo Credit: Aneesh Dey
Mumbai City has fans from all walks of life. There are some who use their passion for the club to earn their livelihood. One such fan is Vyasuddin bhai, who is almost impossible to miss with his bellowing shouts of, “ Team jersey sirf 150 mein (Team jerseys for only 150).”
“My major source of income happens on matchdays. Earlier I used to travel all around the country selling jerseys, but now, I mainly stay in Mumbai. Our club is Mumbai’s pride. It is not just a club for me, but my source of livelihood.”
“On matchdays, I usually sell around 40-50 jerseys, and my prices range from 150-200,” he adds.
Asked if he goes inside the stadium to watch the team, he says, “I mainly watch on the TV. The people around here know me, and I even get tickets. Sometimes, I go inside, but that does not happen very often.”
Lallianzuala Chhangte and Daniel Chima Chukwu scored a goal each for Mumbai City FC and Jamshedpur FC in the 1-1 draw. While it was a frustrating outing for the Islanders, for a lot of their fans it was a happy day.
— Stan Rayan, Aashin Prasad & Aneesh Dey