ISL 2017: How the Kerala Blasters vs Bengaluru FC fan-rivalry evolved
What is football without fans? Even the beautiful game would be nothing if there are no fans cheering on from the stands.
Although vociferous fan support in football is not a new thing in India, it has mostly been restricted to certain parts of the country – West Bengal, the North East, and parts of Kerala and Goa. Now, with the rise of the ISL, a new fan rivalry seems to be on the rise – Kerala Blasters vs Bengaluru FC.
Both the clubs are relatively new to Indian football but have managed to garner massive amounts of fan support, through their good performances. BFC have already won the I-League twice and the Federation Cup twice, while Kerala are the third most successful team in the ISL, having ended runners-up twice.
However, there is a somewhat unhealthy rivalry brewing among the two sets of fans – West Block Blues (Bengaluru FC) and Manjappada (Kerala Blasters).
The Yellow Brigade or the Kerala fans allege that their animosity towards the Blues arose from an incident when former Bengaluru and current Kerala Blasters star Rino Anto and CK Vineeth went to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, to watch their former side play an AFC Cup game against North Korean side April 25 SC.
A certain section of the Bengaluru fans came up with a few chants, mocking their former players, during this game. However, according to a West Block fan, who was in the stadium during this game, it was only a handful of people who were singing these chants, all in good fun.
“I was in the stadium when these chants against them supposedly happened. I didn’t even hear these chants,” said Ullas Marar, a member of the West Block Blues. “It was only 15-20 guys who knew Rino and Vineeth personally and were just fooling around. And trust me, when the West Block Blues chant, it is loud.
“After that, we actually chanted for them. Some smart guy edited all that out and included just these chants. Frankly, Rino and Vineeth have been our heroes for much longer than they’ve been Kerala Blasters heroes,” said Ullas.
However, according to the Blues’ side of the story, it all started off around three years back in the 2013/14 season, when Bengaluru travelled to Manjar, Kerala, to play in the Federation Cup. It was during one of their group stage matches against East Bengal, that Ullas feels that the Blues felt the first brunt of the Kerala fans.
“There were some 10,000 fans inside the stadium that day. Their only problem that day was that we were chanting in English,” said Ullas. “And in spite of Kerala not even being in that game, they started chanting ‘**** off Bangalore’.”
Somu Joseph, who is a member of the Manjappada fan club, however, completely refutes, these allegations, saying, “We never chanted against the West Block Blues or Bengaluru FC in matches between other teams. These guys are very good at alleging. But we never abuse on an open forum.”
One of the biggest points of friction between the two fan groups, before ISL 2017 got underway was that of getting tickets for the March 1 game between Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru.
After being unable to book tickets in the Puma Stand at the stadium, there were even threats that the Kerala fans would book all the tickets at the West Block stand.
However, Somu, who works closely with Manjappada, assured us that nothing of the kind is being planned by the Kerala fans.
“I met Sunil Chhetri at the Indian Sports Honours, and even he asked me, ‘why are you guys booking West Block?’ I assured him that we are not booking West Block,” said Somu. “We are civilized fans. If we wanted to book tickets in the West Block, that stand would have been sold out in minutes. But we do not want to do that.”
More abusive chants as ISL gets underway
With all this buildup ahead of the ongoing ISL season, things seem to be getting pretty heated up between the Kerala and the Bengaluru fans. In a video that went viral earlier this week, the Bengaluru FC fans were seen chanting abusive slogans towards the Kerala fans, supposedly after the Bengaluru-Mumbai game at the Kanteerava Stadium.
However, when asked about these chants, BFC fan Ullas said that it was all in good spirit and that the fans meant nothing more than some harmless banter. He said, “When we do something, we accept it, and we say that we did it as banter.”
However, he further went on to state that the Kerala fans had also made similar chants towards ATK in the opening ISL game of the season. “They are taking the moral high ground now, but that is all nonsense. And they have released their own video now, where they are chanting slangs about Kolkata,” he said.
“I’ve never seen the Kolkata fan base do that. We’ve had a very heated rivalry with Mohun Bagan. They will themselves admit. They tell me that what we see is nothing. Its way more in the Kolkata Derby,” Ullas further said.
For the Kerala fans, however, it is much more than good banter.
“What we do is that we arrange buses for all the fans to go to the Kerala Blasters matches. We develop football. That is why we never see them as our rivals,” said Kerala supporter Somu. “They might be good at chanting, but that is their culture. They want to show off, by chanting and provoke others.”
He further went on to explain that since North Kerala, the part of the state where football is extremely popular, is very close to Bengaluru, and a lot of the people living there are in some way or the other connected to the Karnataka capital, the Kerala fans feel deeply about this rivalry.
However, Somu, who is one of the decision-makers at the Manjappada fan club, said that he is taking steps to ensure that none of their fans chant abusive slogans towards other clubs in the future.
“We are trying to create a new fan culture here. But we do not want abusive chants. It happened during the ATK game, but I can assure you that it will not happen again. We will make sure of that,” he said.
At the end of the day, football is still just a game, and an opportunity to bring the whole world together, not divide it further. BFC fan Ullas also sounded quite upbeat about his personal meetings with Manjappada fans, outside of the football arena. “Strangely, when I’ve met Manjappada fans outside of this, they have been very cordial. Its never been hostile,” he said.
A derby brewing in the South?
With just around 300 km separating North Kerala from Bengaluru, the match between these two sides promises to be an entertaining affair, both on the pitch and off it. While we have seen what kind of an atmosphere the Kolkata Derby can generate, we have not seen as much passion between two sets of fans.
However, as these two young clubs rise up the ranks in Indian football, it is increasingly starting to look like this is the start of a huge rivalry. Just to put things in perspective, all of this has happened, without either of the teams playing a single match against the other.