So Bengaluru FC just sealed their second I-League title in 3 seasons. What makes this feat even more astounding is that the club has been in existence only for those 3 seasons, and that they'd come within 4 minutes of sealing the title in 2015 as well.
But this isn't an ode to the club or its players, as integral and deserving of the championship as they are. This is a tribute to the fans, to the twelfth man, to manager Ashley Westwood's loyal Blue army.
This one is for the West Block Blues...
In many circles, the importance of fans has always been understated, especially in a sport like football. Which is surprising when you consider that a vociferous crowd egging you on can make all the difference, especially when things are not going according to plan. And it can be very daunting for opponents, what with the constant chants and boos. Away games can be especially intimidating, if crowd support is taken into account.
On match days in Bengaluru, West Block A is the stand to be in (if you can manage tickets that is, because the 3,500-seater block is almost always sold out). Unlike at other stadiums, European club jerseys are not allowed. The dress code is 'All Blue'. And amidst the sea of blue are the many banners and posters that the fans proudly hold aloft. A lot of time, effort and money goes into these banners and the fans themselves contribute.
And it isn't just the sight, the constant chanting and singing adds to the atmosphere and apart from adding to the tempo of the BFC game, the noise also often drowns out the television commentators. On match days, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium is the most happening place in all of Bengaluru.
This season in the league, BFC dropped just 6 points at home out of 24, and a lot of that credit goes to the fans. The atmosphere is indeed surreal. You have to be there to believe it!
There is no dearth of supporters at away matches either. BFC fans from the West Block Blues have travelled to Mumbai, Goa and even Shillong to support their team. In fact, there were BFC supporters who travelled all the way to Singapore for the game against Warriors FC last year.
Some of these I-League matches have recorded more away fans than home fans. Suffice to say, wherever Bengaluru FC is in action, they always have the backing of their loyal fans.
The support is not limited to club alone; the national teams also benefits from the West Block Blues. During the World Cup qualifier against Guam, the WBB unveiled a 5,200 square feet banner, believed to be the biggest in Asian football history.
India coach Stephen Constantine remarked that he loved it when India played in Bengaluru.
The fan group of Bangalore FC making the 'biggest banner seen in Asia' for India's WCQ qualifier w/ Guam on Thurs. pic.twitter.com/iHCqknh7Jv— Scott McIntyre (@mcintinhos) November 9, 2015
The importance of the fans is not lost on club captain Sunil Chhetri, who is also the skipper of the Indian national team. Speaking exclusively to ScoopWhoop, Chhetri said:
I speak on behalf of everyone in the dressing room when I say we can never be grateful enough for the kind of support we receive from our fans. I have played for close to a dozen clubs in the country but have never come across fans like the ones at Bengaluru FC. From the banners to the chants and their undying support irrespective of the result is something to be experienced. I am so happy that we could win the title at home in front of the people who deserve to share our joy first hand.
2014-15 was a heartbreaking season for the BFC faithful. After tasting success in their debut campaign, losing out to Mohun Bagan in the dying minutes of the final game of the season was indeed cruel. But instead of deserting their club, the fans flocked to the stadium this term with renewed vigour.
"We will take back what is rightfully ours", cried the chants and banners. And now, they have, with a game to spare, against Bagan.
The going has been good so far for Bengaluru FC. In three seasons, the club has racked up 2 league titles and a Federation Cup trophy. The good times may last, or they may not.