Dear Bengaluru FC, I have a promise to keep ahead of the AFC Cup semi
It was in August 2013 that I first saw Bengaluru FC play. It was a practice match against MEG Bangalore, which we won comfortably. I don’t remember the exact score but I do distinctly remember being on a high from the realisation that I now had a local football club that I could go watch over the weekends. I now had a football club I could call my own.
Weeks later, when I returned to watch our first I-League match, the Bangalore Football Stadium (home to BFC in our first season) looked nothing like I remembered it from the practice match. There were thousands of us in the stands and right from day one, we were ‘loud and proud.’ The match ended 1-1 with Sabeeth scoring for Mohun Bagan late in the game.
A new identity for the city
Our city hadn’t realised it then but two kilometres away from the much-celebrated Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore had gotten itself a new sporting identity. An identity that would find its way to the back of whizzing autorickshaws, one that would greet visitors to the city from billboards and one that fans would ink on their bodies.
On the pitch, Bengaluru FC may have set out to compete with Indian football clubs, but off it, it was going to jostle with the Manchester Uniteds and Bayern Munichs of the world to find its faithful among the city’s football lovers. Perhaps, it was a fitting tribute to this ambition that we won the I-League in our first season.
And what a season it had been! For me and for many others, it was a series of ‘I was there’ moments. I was there when Sean Rooney scored the first competitive goal of our journey as a club; I was there when our hearts sank in a hostile, packed-to-capacity Manjeri stadium, in the Federation Cup and I was there in Goa when we beat Dempo to win our first I-League title. How do you forget a moment like that? We danced, we sang, we hugged strangers and we partied on the streets of Goa.
That season gave us new heroes and new names to chant. We loved our Robin more than we loved Batman. We would follow Sunil Chhetri into any battle at all. And Ashley Westwood became a name we wouldn’t let anyone say a word against. Most importantly though, in that raucous bunch at the old West Block A, we found a family. A family that would earn much fame subsequently as the West Block Blues.
Bigger stadium and bigger fanbase
It is strange for a one-year-old football club to carry the weight of expectations but then, how many one-year-olds go on to win the league at the first time of asking? So when the next season came along, we had moved to a bigger stadium, we had a bigger fan-base and had bigger goals to chase. It was the season when we won our first Federation Cup.
I suppose we were in a hurry to etch our names in the history books. The most satisfying thing about that season was the sight of new fans. The BFC story had started resonating in the city and beyond. Older football fans who had given up on the local football scene were now returning, students were now proudly replacing their European team jerseys to wear their BFC armour.
And the most encouraging sign of them all? The huge number of female fans. If you have never been to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium (our home from the second season onwards), you will probably be surprised by the sight of our female fans leading the chants every once in a while. It doesn’t surprise us one bit, though. The BFC way is inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Once you are through the gates of the stadium, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what you do for a living or how old you are. We are all just The Blues.
For a city celebrated as the crucible of cosmopolitanism, there is no better sporting flagbearer than BFC.
After that first season, we had announced our arrival. We were seen as the new wave that had challenged a stagnant hegemony in Indian football. Rivalries were pitched. We never failed to get under the skin of Khalid Jamil. We egged Westwood on when he gave an earful to visiting coaches. We couldn’t stop trading barbs with fans of the Kolkata clubs on online forums. Our tifos and our smoke bombs and our relentless chants became an experience in itself. Our rivals dismissed us as ‘too European’ and then went on to imitate us in subsequent matches.
Losing out to Bagan
In our second season, we also had the sobering realisation that football can be a game of cruel heartbreaks. With three minutes to go before we were to be crowned champions for a second successive season, Bello Rasaq headed a ball that pierced right through the hearts of thousands of BFC supporters. To come so close to winning and then losing the title to Mohun Bagan at home was something we wouldn’t recover from easily.
If anyone thought we would lose our voices after that gutting loss, they were wrong. We thronged to the stadium again next season and we made it clear to everyone that ‘we will take back what is rightfully ours.’ In a season with its many twists and turns, we eventually did exactly what we said we would. We were champions again. The raw wounds of the previous season’s loss could now begin to heal.
There was no doubt any longer that we were here to stay and break new ground in the way the game was played and promoted. We were now a legitimate powerhouse and as the cliché goes, with our power we took on a bigger responsibility; that of giving Indian football a dignified presence on the Asian map.
Today, our boys will take the field to do precisely that. They will fight to let all of Asia know that Indian teams are not here to just participate or make up the numbers. We are here to win. In doing that, it will no longer be about Bangalore. We will have all of India cheering us on from the different corners of the country, be it Goa, Shillong or Kolkata.
As for me, I will be in that number in West Block, singing, chanting, and lending my voice along with those of the many thousands to let our boys know that we’ve got their backs. To the club and its heroes, I have this to say - you have given me the biggest day of my life as a football fan and I promise you I will be the loudest I have ever been. No matter what the score reads at the end of the game, I will stand proud with each and every one of the faithful and I will be just as much in love with you as I was on that unforgettable night in Goa.
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