The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has covered almost a month now and the growing interest and attendance of fans proves that football in India is stepping ahead if not bringing a rapid surge. The growing numbers of fans flocking to the stadiums only proves that ISL has been able to generate interest in crowds towards Indian football.
The stadiums are packed with people of all ages enthusiastic to see the most popular game catch its hype again. Youngsters are eager to watch the matches and see their favourite international as well as Indian players scoring marvelous goals. Yes, we are moving on – Indians are looking beyond the European Leagues and accumulating interest in Indian football which is indeed an achievement.
Celebrities from Bollywood thronging the stadiums to support their teams are pulling in more youngsters to the game. With stars like John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and many more, the ISL has succeeded in capturing popularity. The co-owners, players, franchises – all are happy with the growth of the game.
Growing number of spectators
Talking about the attendance of football fans at the ISL matches, Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium pulled a crowd of more than 50,000 in the three matches that have been held there. The fervor towards football in Bengal is not unknown to us but stadiums in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai also attracted spectators which were startling. Talking about the three matches in Delhi and Mumbai, the average attendance was rounded to 15,000 and 23,500 spectators, respectively, which is far better than earlier response to Indian football. We have seen tournaments like Nehru Cup and SAFF Championship in the Capital city but the crowd was never as enthusiastic as it turns out to be in the starting season of ISL.
The international imports like Del Piero playing for Delhi turned the fans eager. Even Chennai which is not very popular for football is seeing attendance which is surprising for them – almost 20,000 spectators in the first home match and then around 16,567 in the second. However, the attendance enlarged with 25,000 spectators as Atletico de Kolkata visited Chennai.
North-East’s love for football
At par with Atletico de Kolkata, North-East United saw their home grounds almost full. The love for football in the North-east region brought large capacity of crowds to the stadiums. The response has been so encouraging that Larsing Ming , co-owner of North-East United FC has asked for additional international matches. It is also well-known that this region produces players endowed with great football skills and have been contributing to the national team. In its match against Delhi Dynamos which was a goalless draw, JLN Stadium saw a half-filled stadium and the North-east fans cheering for their team. In fact they supported and cheered for Durga Boro more than Alessandro Del Piero. Their fervor and passion for the sport was quite evident.
Guwahati too saw an average of 30,870 in its match against Goa. On the other hand, FC Pune City has seen a disappointing response from the fans to have attendance below 10,000 in all matches that they played till now. While co-owner Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters FC beat FC Goa 1-0, rising to the fifth position in the points tally at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on November 6, spectators in huge numbers were witnessed.
Even though everything is going right, steadily though, the Indian fans are a bit disappointed by more media attention to international players compared to the Indian players. Print media covering more of foreign leagues and not giving much space to the ISL in the papers needs to improve according to football fans.
Foreign imports in ISL
As the ISL progressed into its third week, the international and Indian players seemed to get into coordination and understanding of the game. Everyone had a better performance to showcase. Nicolas Anelka bagged the hero of the match for Mumbai City FC scoring an incredible free kick and a 1-0 victory over Delhi Dynamos FC in Mumbai last week. Another name – Elano, from Chennaiyan FC is former Manchester City Player but wasn’t very popular here in India. The Brazilian made sure he catches headlines as he charmed the audience with his penalty shot in their match with Mumbai City FC. The 32-year-old put up a great show at a time when Nicolas Anelka was the one who was being talked about. Chennaiyan FC enthused to the second spot in points table after beating Mumbai City FC 5-1. Atletico de Kolkata is leading on the points table.
As the foreign players created hype in ISL, Delhi signing up Del Piero saw a surge in number of spectators and budding enthusiasm of Delhiites towards Indian football. Indian football managed to make a name in the foreign arena as players like this Italian legend stepped on Indian soil. Regardless of questions being posed at the Italian’s fitness, he entered the first half in the first match of Delhi against FC Pune City. However, he didn’t seem to showcase talent to his ability and failed to make a mark. The 39-year old Italian who was an amazing partner to Mads Junker has not been able to provide it here on Indian soil. He has no goal to his credit till now and the question regarding his fitness that was raised in the beginning seems to carry logic.
With star players such as David James and Micheal Chopra, co-owner Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala blasters disappointed the fans and managed only a single win from the five matches they have played until now. Missing many chances in the game, they failed to execute good skills on the field. New strategies and more hard work will be required if they need to go in the top half of ISL points table. Currently, they are sixth.
Indian players’ contribution
Though the ISL’s much talked about subject has been the international players, the Indian players have showcased great gaming skills on field and made a mark for themselves with their promising performances. Chennaiyan FC’s Jeje Lalpekhlua played a pivotal role in their win against Mumbai City FC. The Mohun Bagan player did not disappoint Materazzi, impressing fans with his attacking skills and a promising partnership with Valencia Mendoza. Sandesh Jhinghan from Kerala Blasters have been performing really well on the left back and delivering results radiantly. Also, Rehnesh from North-east United has been proving his magnitude with his goal-keeping skills. Delhi Dynamos Jewel Raja’s Header-equalizer against FC Goa made headlines as the match ended with a score line of 2-1 on November 1. Apart from that, young players– Robin Gurung, Mandar Rao and Shouvik Ghosh daunted the ISL audience with their performance.
ISL in third week
Unlike the first two weeks of ISL that saw eminent goals in the form of Mendy’s bicycle kick, Pavel Elias’s stunners and Andre Mortiz’s curlers, the third week lacked quality. The third week had a drought of quality goals with only five goals in four matches. With a month into the game, understanding of the game and seriousness led to lesser goals being converted into the net. However, Mumbai FC’s Nicholas Anelka, the most talked about player of the ISL, aided his team towards a 1-0 victory over Kerala Blasters. In his game, Anelka showed class and his experience did the magic as he hardly misplaced any of the passes to his fellow players in the game against Chennaiyan FC. Mumbai City FC stands 4th in the point table as of now. Whereas Mumbai’s Raju Gaikwad ruined the show when he came in as a replacement for Cmvos and was accountable for Chennai’s as many as three goals.
FC Goa this week was on a high. Virat Kohli’s co-owned team made headlines with names like Zico and Robert Pires on their side. In their match against Delhi Dynamos, the Goan side had an impressive 2-1 win over Delhi Dynamos. Quality football and smooth passing dominated the field. Maybe it’s just the start for the Goan side. But they still are at the bottom of the points table. With an attendance of 34,657 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Kochi), the match between Kerala blasters FC and Delhi Dynamos FC ended in a goalless draw on November 9. Delhi Dynamo FC Captain Del Piero might not have received the best birthday present in the form of a victory but the football fans surely made him more popular and the Italian Piero felt overwhelmed by the response.
As per the current standings, Atletico de Kolkata is leading followed by Chennaiyan FC at the second spot. FC Pune City stands third while the co-owned Ranbir Kapoor Mumbai City FC have moved to the fourth spot. Next are North-East United FC, Kerala Blasters FC and Delhi Dynamos FC with 7 points each. FC Goa sits at the bottom of the points chart.
Pune City FC will take on Chennaiyan FC on November 11 whereas Kerala blasters will lock horns with Mumbai City FC on November 12.