New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) Nearly a month into the Indian Super League (ISL), the tournament might not have set the pulse racing in terms of the standard and quality of football but one thing it has surely managed is to revive the country’s interest in the world’s most popular sport and bring the crowds back to football stadia.
Old-timers, nostalgic about the good old days of Indian when crowds used to pack stadia across the country, are happy that the ISL has done some good by enticing football fans, particularly the young, out of their living rooms watching European leagues on the telly.
With many Bollywood celebrities like Ranbir Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham backing teams and flocking to their matches, the daily evening match has become a much talked about television fare for many.
“If this renewed interest in football can also bring school children to football fields, the purpose of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Reliance-IMG in putting up the show is served even if it is a commercial venture may be worthwhile,” IT professional Gaurav Chauhan told IANS.
While Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium, not surprisingly, has witnessed 50,000 plus crowds on an average in the three matches played there till now because of the Bengali’s traditional passion for the game, the most surprising aspect is the crowd turnout at lesser known football centres like Delhi, Chennai and Navi Mumbai.
The average attendance in the three matches in Delhi has been about 15,000 while Mumbai City FC have roped in 23,500 fans on an average for their three home matches held at the D.Y. Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai.
Chennai, another centre hardly known for its footballing culture, is witnessing vast numbers turn up at the stadium to watch ISL. In the first home match for Chennaiyin FC, nearly 20,000 cheering fans were in attendance while this number may have dropped to 16,567 for the second, but league leaders’ Atletico de Kolkata’s visit saw the numbers surge to 25,000.
The national capital has witnessed a bare minimum attendance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium when it comes to football tournaments like the Nehru Cup and the SAFF Championship. More often than not, journalists at the Nehru Stadium have outnumbered the fans for most of these matches, barring the ones involving Nepal or the final games.
But Delhi’s first ISL game – a drab goalless draw between home team Dynamos and Pune City – attracted 16,500 football buffs to watch one of Italy’s World Cup winning team members.
Alessandro Del Piero is arguably the biggest name to grace the ISL and as soon as he was named the marquee player of the Dynamos, the excitement quotient soared.
“I was super excited when I heard Del Piero would be playing for Delhi. He is a true legend of the game. I just couldn’t believe my luck,” Nikhil Koshi, an avid English Premier League fan who watches every single game on television of his favourite club
Arsenal, told IANS.
For Koshi and many others, though, the excitement turned to disappointment in Delhi’s first home game.
“I came to see Del Piero but he didn’t even start and when he came on I understood very quickly why he didn’t. I left the stadium bitterly disappointed by the quality of the game. It was quite poor!
“The ISL is great for people who have come to the stadium looking to spend an evening out and get a few ‘selfies’. But for actual football fans who diligently
follow the European leagues and understand the game, it is hard to stay interested due to the mediocrity,” Koshi added.
The result was clear to see in the second match against Chennaiyin FC as the numbers dropped to 13,000.
In the third match, the only reason why the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium saw 16,000 turning up was thanks to the visiting NorthEast United FC. Fans from the northeast easily outnumbered the Delhiites and constituted more than 50 percent of those present. The Delhi players also admitted after the match that it was like playing an away game.
NorthEast United and Atletico de Kolkata venues are the only two to have come close to reaching their full capacity.
Guwahati’s 35,000-capacity stadium packed 29,500 fans for the team’s opener against Kerala Blasters. And while this figure might have dropped (25,530) a little for the second match, the third match saw 30,870 people fill up the stadium for the clash against Goa.
Pleased with the turnout, NorthEast United FC co-owner Larsing Ming has called for more international matches to be held in the region.
“It has been a fantastic response from the people. This has further confirmed that football is immensely popular in the region. There is a very strong case for the northeast to stage more international matches,” Ming told IANS.
“We have had a very hands-on approach to market the team. Logistically we have had zero trouble on the ground and everything has gone smoothly,” said Ming.
FC Pune City are the only club in the ISL to have below 10,000 attendance in all of the matches they have staged so far with an average footfall of 7,797 in their three matches at the 22,000-capacity stadium.
Kerala Blasters FC’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (75,000 capacity) in Kochi is yet to host a match but club officials told IANS that about 15,000 tickets have already been sold online while on ground sales started Wednesday for their match against FC Goa Thursday.
However, sections of the English media in India prefer to give more space to European football leagues than their own ISL, causing chagrin to a lot of football
“Papers are giving more space to foreign leagues than to our own league. This can happen only in India where people still suffer from colonial hangover,” said businessman Chetan Arora, who fails to understand why more space should be given to foreign football at the expense of Indian football which is on the throes of a
“I have to scan the paper everyday to read about the ISL match which is often tucked away in a corner with the English, Spanish, French and German leagues – where no Indian plays – getting much more space. This is ridiculous,” Arora added.