I-League: Number of firsts for Bengaluru FC
Since coming on board as the first Club through a bidding process in the Airtel I-League, Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned Bengaluru FC have not only ticked all the boxes expected of them, but have shown the path ahead for Indian Club Football, as to how it should be done, both on, and more importantly, off the field.
While scripting a new chapter in Indian Football history by claiming the Airtel I-League title in their debut season courtesy a 4-2 triumph over Dempo on the road on Monday, off the pitch BFC have given the English Premier League crazy youth Football fanatics of the Nation something of their own.
From dishing out Match day Programme much in line with Football Programme which is a must on matchdays in the United Kingdom, to tying up with a local pub in the Garden City (Arbor Brewing Company - Pioneers of Craft Beer since 1995), the Airtel I-League Champions picked up a thing or two from the most popular League in the Planet and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
Probably for the first time in Indian Football, the Club with all its aforementioned initiatives has been able to attract a large chunk of Football followers who previously were more attracted towards the Chelseas and the Manchester Uniteds than the Dempos, East Bengals and all other Indian Clubs.
The never-heard-before in Indian Football chants of "When the Blues go marching in", on the lines of the iconic tune "When the Saints go marching in," to never-seen-before fan marches on match days are perfect testimony of the type of crowds who have thronged the Bangalore Football Stadium; in numbers.
The average attendance, as provided by the Club, is 7500, the highest crowd for any Football match in Bangalore in over 25 years.
Women football fans have also turned up in good proportion for BFC home games, a fact that again has been by and large alien to football in the country.
And that's not it. These fans travel along with the team for away matches too. It was during Bengaluru FC's Federation Cup do-or-die match against East Bengal where some 50 odd spectators bedazzled one and all in Manjeri.
More commendable, the Club from South also organised travel for their fans to attend some of the away matches. Even Bengaluru's title clinching game was witnessed by 500 fans in Goa.
"I've seen record turnouts in Kerala. The gathering in Manjeri also needs to be attributed to the fact that the place is Football starved. But I've never seen something like this before live. This happens in EPL matches," senior journalist Jafar Khan, a local had commented while covering the match.
"They are crazily amazing", is how Kunaal Majgaonkar, the club's Media Manager described the BFC aficionados.
"They decide a place, gather and come chanting and marching straight to the stands. It's mind-blowing, I can tell you. The fans cheer the same way for the entire 90 minutes. The chants, slogans...it's electric." Majgaonkar, himself a journalist, added.
This chant, when sung by a crowd, often starts at a very slow tempo, around 70 beats per minute. The next verse is then dramatically sped up to somewhere around 140 beats per minute.
"All our Matches are televised live at the Arbor Brewing Company which is our official home pub. Around 100-120 people gather wearing blue and yelling their lungs out in front of giant screens. The Players also pay a visit after home games." Majgaonkar further informed.
The Match Day Programme, given to spectators before a match for free contains the Team information, statistics, chants, a column from Coach Ashley Westwood, flashback and top scorer count.
Other absolute firsts on match days include a corporate box, much like the hospitality boxes in Cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL). High-end tickets of Rs 500 laced with refreshments, again like the IPL, always on the go. And for the first-time ever, the Home-matches witnessed an Emcee and not just an announcer.
For the fans, there are open training sessions where fans can meet and greet the Players. Then there was the BFC day out where 750 cohorts registered for a chance to come play on BFC's home turf where they were 'coached' by the Players themselves.
The 'Thank You' banner from the whole squad after the final home game perhaps underlined the contribution of fans in BFC's voyage.
"I would like to say a special thanks to the fans who made Bangalore a special place to play for all of us," Head Coach Ashley Westwood was quoted as saying after the win on Monday.
"From Day I, we have been very particular about doing the basic things right on the Match day. I don't think we have done something very special. These are things you as a fan expect in your favourite Club's Home games," Club consultant Mandar Tamhane told www.the-aiff.com.
"What has been special is the fact that we have owners who understand all these needs and are willingly to cater to them. Our CEO (Mr. Mustafa Ghouse) was a Tennis Player of repute and has represented India at the highest level in Davis Cup. The Jindals are football mad people, die hard Arsenal fans. They have travelled across the Globe and been to matches at the UK. So all these Match day Programme, and other ideas have been enthusiastically accepted by them," Tamhane added.
"Player's interaction with fans is also very important. Before we got rolling our Players went to Malls, Schools to interact with the people of Bangalore. We have to make them known faces like in Cricket to become icons and have a mass-appeal."
The BFC Bazaar is perhaps the best example where fans were pleasantly surprised seeing players selling personalised Club's merchandise.
Tamhane summed it up by informing that in future more such fan engagement endeavours are in the offing: "We are planning to do for community development as well as fan engagement. Things such as BFC Care and BFC Awards are in the pipeline."
(Posted on 22-04-2014)