34-hour drives, ticket worries and madness: Fans return to football after 2 years with ISL final
The Kerala Blasters vs Hyderabad FC ISL final has generated the most frenzied pre-match build-up for a domestic Indian football match in years. Here's the extent to which fans have gone.
Margao: Shojin R Chandran was walking down the platform looking for his train compartment on Saturday evening when a voice from a group of four called out to him: "Goak anno". He knew at that moment his journey to the ISL final had begun in earnest.
Around the same time, Arun Aravindashkan was wrapping up his office work in Palakkad as quickly as he could so that he could begin his 17-hour drive to Goa. "There's a risk involved in driving for 34 hours over two days to watch a football match, but today is a special occasion. I need to join work again on Monday morning, but I wouldn't have missed the final for anything," he said.
Allowed into the stadiums after two arid seasons, Kerala Blasters fans have descended on Goa in numbers. Out of the 18,500 tickets available for the final, at least 10,000 have been booked by members of the Manjappada, the official fan group of the Blasters. They have been arriving over the weekend on flights, trains, buses, cars and motorcycles to see their team play in an ISL final after six years.
Two fans making an overnight journey from Malappuram to Goa on their motorcycle lost their lives in a collision with a truck near Uduma on Sunday morning, casting a pall of gloom over what was to be a day of celebrations.
"It was a shocking moment and a jolt to the excitement all Kerala Blasters fans would have been feeling today. They were such young boys too. Such moments put everything into perspective," said Aravindashkan, who took the same route to Goa as the two victims.
Travelling fans - 200 vs 10,000, but with a yellow twist
Tickets for the ISL final are being sold on the black market at exorbitant prices, with tickets having been sold out on official platforms.
Kerala Blasters fans are confident that they will occupy around 80% of the stadium on Sunday. They allow an estimate of 10% of the stadium to be filled with Hyderabad fans while the rest will be taken up by officials.
The numerical disadvantage in the stadium is not something that will bother Hyderabad FC, according to Arun Nair, a member of Deccan Legion, the official fan group for the team. Around 200 fans made the journey from Hyderabad to Goa on Saturday night, in buses arranged by the team, he said.
"We are used to being outnumbered in all away venues. All we want to ensure is that we make ourselves visible to our players," he said.
"We will be wearing the yellow jersey, our home jersey, because we finished higher than Kerala in the league stage. So if Kerala fans decide to come to the ground wearing yellow, it shall end up helping us," chuckled Nair.
Fans coming to Goa from Hyderabad by the night bus on Saturday are taking this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Hyderabad football deserves to be restored to its former glory. First seeded by Nizam College, then through the days of Hyderabad City Police team, we had been a powerhouse once. For now, we want to enjoy the 90 minutes, who knows how many times such chances will come again. Also, if we win, the 80-20 advantage that Kerala have over us now can become 50-50," said Vinil Rao.
The Kerala Blasters official fan group also plans to unveil a special tifo in the final. It is not known yet what the content of this tifo will be, but according to passionate fans, it will be something to pay a tribute to coach Ivan Vukomanovic.
Bengal left to return empty-handed
On the other hand, Sunday is a sad day for Bengali football fans - many of whom are still trying to cancel their flight tickets and hotel accommodation while trying to forget the heartbreak of the defeat to Hyderabad FC in the semifinal.
"I was so sure ATK Mohun Bagan would make it to the final I had gotten tickets for it even before the semis. But now I think my confidence in them was the bad luck which made them lose in the semis despite playing so well. If only Liston's shot had resulted in a goal!' lamented Debashish Dey.
Goa is making people from the eastern state of West Bengal go back with empty hands far too frequently this year. The highway connecting the north and south of Goa is lined with political posters. The ones showing the Bengal-based party which tried to get a foothold here in the recent elections have been blackened or have had advertisements plastered over.
For now, Goa is bathed in yellow.