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One of the primary aims of the Indian Super League was to drive crowds into the stadium. Both the signing of ‘marquee players’ and evening kick-off times have brought in a more than healthy average crowds with a decent atmosphere at most games. The game in which the Delhi Dynamos lost to FC Goa was, unfortunately not such a game. Disappointed by the sparse home crowd, Aakriti Mehrotra calls on the people of Delhi to turn out and support their local team, just as they did against NorthEast United.
Delhi Dynamos lost 4-1 at home to FC Goa, a result that put them right at the bottom of the points table.
Watching from the press-box, I could see barely one thousand fans in the stadium as Hans Mulder led the Delhi team out to play Robert Pires’ Goa. It was frankly embarrassing. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is a 60,000 seater; bigger than the likes of Anfield and Stamford Bridge which makes it an absolute task to fill it up. However, we have seen the official attendance to be over 30,000 on occasion (vs Pune and notably against North East United when the support was fantastic), which I think is a great number to have in a city like Delhi, where a football culture is not prevalent.
The home crowd lacked support and any sports enthusiast can tell you that the support a team or an athlete gets during the game can massively affect the eventual outcome. When big European games in football occur, the captain or the manager is often seen asking the supporters to come and create an electric atmosphere, which will end up helping the home team. Why is it that we see upsets happening regularly? How is it that FC Basel have defeated Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool at St. Jacob’s Park? This is in absolutely no way to suggest that the Swiss team is not talented, but just to reiterate that support plays a key part in any competitive event.
The Indian Super League (ISL) has been launched in the country to ‘revolutionize’ football. Critics have argued whether or not this glamorous league will make a difference to the condition of the sport in the country. People need to understand that revolutionize means to change something radically or fundamentally. Nowhere in the definition is a time-frame put. The first thing that has been asked from the league is for support to be created. Fans and supporters are two terms used interchangeably, but they are different in meaning and this shouldn’t be happening. The use of Bollywood, the glamour quotient of this league has raised eyebrows from many sections of the football watching community (dare I call them the slightly superior-feeling-because-of-all-the European-games-watching one as well).
However, it needs to be understood that the use of this celebrity angle can turn out to be crucial to widen the audience. Many people tuned in to watch the opening game just for the opening ceremony. They then went on to watch the subsequent games. The counter-argument for this is that the interest that these people are developing, which might be due to the attraction of actors & cricketers will make them ‘fans’ of the particular franchise, and not supporters. While this is right, and we need supporters and not fans for the ISL to be really taken seriously in the footballing world, I would like to point out that fans create supporters, and this too is a process.
Delhi is a city without any football culture. There is no I-League team from the capital city. However, there are various European teams’ supporters clubs. Some are in official affiliation with the club in Europe, while some are fan initiatives, where fans can come together to root for their team. Most of the ‘members’ of these clubs are students, or people between the ages 16 and 28. I ask these people, if you can take out 2 or 3 hours to watch the club you support in Europe or outside on a projector, why can’t you take out the same time to go to the stadium and support your local team and inspire them to play well?
Delhi is reported to be reducing their tickets down to a modest 50 INR. A beer at a cafe or bar where you might be going to watch Chelsea or Real Madrid play would cost you more. The Dynamos management is clearly trying to help build support. Flags etc have started being sold for an almost negligible amount. Celebrities have been invited for games for the same reason (but one can argue over the positive and negative effects of this arrangement). Social media has been actively used by the franchise as well. Free tickets for winning online competitions are being given out.
The atmosphere between the last home game and this one was so contrasting. Both NorthEast and the Dynamos were extremely pleased with the crowd after the game, and several mentions were made to it in the post-match conference. In the Goa game, there was almost a pin drop silence at the beginning (it did end up rising to about 15000 by the end of the game). There were hardly ten people in the stand next to the press-box, when the game began. There was no surprise that Goa dominated the match right from the start. The super talented Mandar Rao Desai was completely bossing the left flank and created many problems for the Delhi defence in the first twenty minutes. Tolgay Ozbey was also extremely effective in the centre. Delhi sat back after the initial phase of the game and their offensive transitions became slower and slower. They were trying to launch counter attacks, but they didn’t have the numbers to do the same, and the consistent goals by the Goans curbed any chance of a come back from the home side.
While Delhi was dominated on the field by Goa, who have now done their first double of the tournament, you can go on to argue whether a better support from the crowd would have made a difference. Things can be linked. Will better performances from the team fetch them a better home support? After all, the 4-1 win over Chennaiyin was followed by the record achieving home crowd against NorthEast. Delhi lost two and drew one game before they took on Goa at their home turf. We have seen in the past few years that an established, historic club like AC Milan has also suffered from the lack of home support at games because of poor performances and results. San Siro is seen largely empty at home games. Could the result of sub-par performances on part of the Delhi team be why people don’t care to take out time to go and watch their local team play on a weekday? People are tired by the time they come home from office. Mid- November is the time when exams in schools and colleges are right around the corner and students begin saving their semester by finally opening their books. If the team is actually performing and getting results, perhaps the residents of the capital city, where life is so tiring and so fast, would have more reason to sacrifice on their routine and come out in strength to get behind their team.
Both these reasons are pretty interchangeable, and only the coming fixtures, and the results the DEN owned team achieve will tell us if the two are related. But if the NorthEast game was anything to go by, Delhi has enough of a culture and growing love for the team and the game, that they can take time out (on a weekday!) to come and enjoy the beautiful game, and become part of the ‘revolution’ to help football’s cause in the country.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra