Bengaluru, November 20: Welcome to BFC, ISL.
The crowd roared moments after Miku kicked things off for Bengaluru FC in their first-ever Indian Super League (ISL) match, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday (November 19) against Mumbai City FC. In a way, it symbolised the changing scenario of Indian football - the newcomer in the team being accepted by the thousands filling up the stands was a metaphor to the entire city, especially BFC's fan group West Block Blues, embracing the ISL. Or were the West Block Blues welcoming ISL to BFC?
The marriage between BFC and ISL, if you can call it that, was indeed a difficult one. Confusion prevailed initially as spectators were not allowed to move freely inside the Kanteerava. Many clueless fans turned up with their cars and bikes only to realise that parking was only available at the St Joseph's Indian High School Ground, opposite the stadium.
The gates were different too. From calling them 'main gate' and 'side gate', spectators now have to deal with the letters A to F (Gate A to Gate F) with the existing main gate reserved only for the entry of the team bus. Even the security guards and bouncers didn't know the corresponding letter of the gate they were assigned to.
It seemed annoying, but that's because it was day one. Things were being streamlined and the marriage will be a successful one soon. If the players warmed up to the ISL with a win against Mumbai City FC, even the viewers can win over the league.
"The stadium experience is a new one to say the least and will definitely take some getting used to," Vijay RB, one of the members of the WBB Fan Army, said. "With the main gate no longer being accessible and fans having to enter through specific outer gates, there was quite a bit of confusion as to how to go about it. The parking has become sort of a hassle owing to the fact that it's now at St Joseph's Indian High School (since Kanteerava no longer allows parking to the general public). Now the walk to the stands is actually much longer than it used to be."
Fans' movements inside the stadium were also restricted. "Don't keep roaming around," a guard warned a fan on Sunday. "Stick to your area. Food will be available at the stalls placed near each stand."
Bengaluru FC's chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane said the restrictions were put in place by the club, and it wasn't one of the ISL's specifications. "We specified the outer and inner gate entries," he said. "It was to bring in a structure to get in and out. We needed to be more vocal to send out information before as it was new for everyone. A person used to coming through the main gate wouldn't know where to enter now. It was something we decided. It'll take one or two more games to get used to it. On our part, we'll send out information in a better way for the next game."
Other volunteers didn't know how to deal with the boys staying at the DYES sports hostel located in the stadium. The hostelites didn't like it when their movement was also restricted within their own campus.
"While we were in a joyous and boisterous mood, the barricades which've been set up have kind of marred the intense atmosphere which we used to create," Vijay added. "We knew there we going to be changes with the move to the ISL and it's understandable that they've their certain protocols that they need to follow. So we get where they're coming from. It'll take a bit of time to get used to, but it'll eventually happen."
What was indeed surprising, if not baffling, is the crowd turnout of 17,796. It's not yet sure if it was the hype around the ISL or Bengalureans were just curious to see what the ISL was like. Marketing too was a key factor in the higher turnout. Only I-League games against East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have seen bigger numbers, but that owes a lot to the travelling away fans. On Sunday, it was more or less the home crowd which made its presence felt.
"I personally expected a maximum of 12,000," Vijay said. "While marketing was definitely a key factor, it was also what transpired on the matchday. People just started turning up in numbers to buy tickets from the Bookmyshow counter. And that's when stands started selling out, especially the north and the west stand."
To make up for all the hassle in terms of the movement around the stadium, the league had a fan zone located near the outdoor basketball court. Here, the fans arriving early could indulge in some foosball or a VR game. Fans could also buy official club merchandise.
That is what @bengalurufc means to me. A great start to our @IndSuperLeague journey. Total team effort & great support from all you awesome fans.#WeAreBFC #BFC #IndianSuperLeague #BENMUM #BengaluruFC pic.twitter.com/sZPxG81fQU— Rahul Bheke (@RahulBheke) November 19, 2017
For the club staff, it was a different experience too. With a large part of the organisation and security on matchday handled by the league, the backroom staff could breathe easy. Each one was given one particular task and was not overworked as there were a lot more people involved to handle every single thing.
However, club officials themselves were given limited access to their teams. The club's photographer is not allowed to click pictures on matchday. The ISL employs photographers and they provide pictures for the clubs and other media. BFC, and other clubs, have to take the pictures from a cloud link set up by the league. They are allowed to download 30 pictures on a given a match-day.
Season opener was a complete blast.— Harmanjot khabra (@harman_khabra) November 19, 2017
Lads put in some great effort which could be seen on the pitch.great support from the followers ❣️love u all for those beautiful chants#westblockblues 🔝#indiansuperleague #bengalurufc 🥇 pic.twitter.com/yTiNk9aAQX
The media manager could head over to the pitch only in the last 10 minutes of the game to fetch a player for the press conference. He was not allowed into the field of play and technical area. No one but the players and coaches are allowed to venture into the dressing room because of integrity rules.
"In terms of responsibilities, the ISL is more organised than the I-League," Tamhane said. "Certain rules of the league have gotten more specific. But we're used to changes because we've handled the AFC Cup before. Moreover, we've experience in our team to adapt to changes. Srinivas Murthy, one of our officials, is a former manager of the Indian national team.
"I can see that the movement of the staff was more organised. Vendors and others were also given specific entry points. There's restrictions to the number of people entering the field of play and technical area. Lesser the better actually. There're security officers assigned to each team and they travel everywhere the team goes. The system that the league wants to put in is a professional one, and they've implemented this after watching other international leagues."
However, Tamhane said they have to increase the number of ticket counters at the stadium. "We had a couple of delays at the counters, only two of them were there at the stadium," he said. "It's something we've to rework on. We've to increase the number of counters. Moreover, there's a basketball match (a FIBA World Cup qualifier between India and Syria) on Sunday, the same day as our game against Delhi Dynamos. We've to stick with our plan and accommodate them as well. It'll all be done this week."
In terms of the field set up, the team dugouts were placed at the opposite end. Earlier, during the I-League and AFC Cup, the dugouts were located at the western side, under the West Block Blues. They are now placed on the eastern side, just after the Press Box.
The ground condition too slightly improved as the league brings in its own set of pitch experts to handle the length of the grass, fix bald patches and make the grass even all over the ground.
Last but not the least, the experience was also a different one for the media. The ISL has brought in better WiFi connection at the stadium because of the club's tie-up with ACT. The catering was neat. Snack boxes with a variety of items replaced the morning sandwiches of Koshy's.
Our first @IndSuperLeague appearance and our first win with our first clean sheet! Thank you so much Bengaluru for coming to the Fortress tonight, you guys made the difference. #Humbled pic.twitter.com/tufP4nZncF— Gurpreet Singh (@GurpreetGK) November 19, 2017
The toilets, however, were pathetic as always. The toilets within the stadium were closed and Portakabin toilets were installed at the back. Not that the stadium toilets were any better, but the portable toilets too raised a stink. There were no lights inside for proper accessibility and the flush did not work before the start of the match.
Parking for media was provided near the Indoor Stadium. It was long round-about stretch to get to the media box, which was located at the far end of the Kanteerava. One had to go through three different gate entry points to get to the press box.
Yet, the change seems to be for the better.
Welcome to ISL, BFC.