Fans piling in for the game an hour before the match was set to begin. Nashik Dhol playing loudly. Speakers blaring fan favourite songs. Flares of multiple colours being set off in the stands. Fans cheering loudly throughout the game, singing songs such as ‘Vande Mataram’ and the typical Bombay song ‘We are the Bhai’ in a festive atmosphere.
Think it’s the setting of another Cricket match? Think again. It was football, with the Indian National Team taking the stage against the much more higher ranked Puerto Rico.
Team India was playing the South American nation in the first international match held in Bombay after half a century. But the atmosphere could’ve been mistaken for an IPL or International Cricket game, such was the noise made by the crowd of 10,000 odd Mumbaikars cheering for their team, bursting their lungs out.
The stage was set for an enthralling performance, all team India had to do was deliver, and boy, did they deliver in style.
Playing in front of a packed crowd – or at least that’s how it felt within the stadium – the Indian team conceded a first half penalty, but dug in to pull back a swashbuckling victory by 4 goals to 1. It could’ve been more, had our strikers been more clinical, but all in all, it was a deserved win with some scintillating football on display, egged on by the raucos crowd and their loud, wholehearted support from the stands
In fact, the crowd not only supported the homeboys, they also cheered and gave a standing ovation to the Puerto Rican team after the end of the game, leaving them awestruck, as their management mentioned in the post match interview.
For the Indian team, especially Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the cheers and support was comparable to that of some of European – specifically Italian – footballs ultras. Those superfans who are always there for the team, making them run harder to the tune of their passionate cheers.
In the end, it wasn’t just a victory for the lads playing on field. It was a victory for football.
The organizers did a good job of securing and setting up the venue, while the cops and volunteers had done a splendid job of making the entire process safe and hassle-free, guiding everyone to the right stands, and ensuring a quick entry and exit.
It was also a victory for Bombay as its footballing fraternity came together to show its love for the game, proving once and for all that Mumbai is ready to host international matches, and has been for a long time. They showed their hunger for the game, and conducted themselves in a classy manner, earning the respect of the opposition team as well. It was testament to the fact that Indian football fans are a cultured lot, and that Mumbai deserves to host more international games, and not suffer another wait of 50-60 years to srr its next game.
It was a clarion call to the sports ministry to hold more matches, because its fans have surely come of age. AIFF, are you listening?