Mumbai City FC fans have missed being at the stadium cheering their team over the past two years, which witnessed an unprecedented high in one and a heartbreak in the other. In 2020-21 Mumbai City FC became the first club in the history of Hero ISL to do a double by winning the League Shield and trophy. However, the following season the Islanders couldn't manage to break into the top 4 at the end of the season.
But, for Mumbai City FC fans, returning to the stands after a two-year hiatus has been an emotional experience for fans like those of the West Coast Brigade, who were engaged in long-course preparations to cherish the moment every Indian football fan was waiting for.
"We were extremely emotional because it meant something to us," said Anand. "We made sure there was no half-measure because we never held ourselves back. We just made sure that the players and coaches know that the fans are here. As much as they wanted to play in front of the fans, we wanted to watch them play at our home ground," added Anand.
The return was marked with all the trademarks of a Mumbai City FC game - chants, a team bus welcome, and a flare show. This time around, they also added a march from one end of the Arena to the other - a little celebration among themselves, now that they were able to be back in the premises.
"Now, at the Mumbai Football Arena, it's a smaller stadium, the pitch is closer. You can easily read the game from that close. It's easier to create a vibe with our chants. From inception to winning the double, it has been a great journey. It's very difficult to express in words," Anand said.
"The fan engagement done by ISL and Mumbai City over the years has been immense. My experience as a football fan has grown over the years. My attachment increased after every match, irrespective of the outcome. Over the years, in terms of having that fanatic side of me, ISL has helped. Mumbai City FC has played a major role in connecting fans to the club. Every fan coming to the stadium is getting the fan experience they should get", he added.
One of the defining features of ISL fan clubs has been that they have encapsulated the local spirit of every city they're present in, and allowed Indian football to be celebrated in unique styles. With Mumbai, which is a melting pot of people from different parts of the country, Anand said that the spirit of Mumbai City FC's fan following is built on this acceptance - and it applied to players as well.
"People from various parts of India come to Mumbai and accept it as their own and Mumbai runs in their veins," said Anand. "If you play for Mumbai, you need to understand the city's culture. The whole aura and energy of Mumbai is something the whole fanbase carries because we aren't just Mumbai City fans, we are Mumbaikars first, who live and breathe Mumbai. So if we're going to support a team from the city, we express the spirit of Mumbaikars in the stands and see it resonate with the players," he added.
This spirit will be on full display today as Mumbai City FC host their west-coast rivals FC Goa. Mumbai City FC are currently on top of the table and are the only unbeaten side at this point of the season, while also being considerably on top of the scoring charts.