The energy and enthusiasm shown by the crowd before the start of an Indian Super League match at Kochi is infectious
“Am I the only girl who has come to see the match?” says 14-year-old Sneha, as she walks on the road just outside the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium at Kochi on Sunday. This is an hour before the start of the Indian Super League (ISL) match between Kerala Blasters (KB) and the Delhi Dynamos. Indeed, for a moment, she seems to be right.
There is a swarm of youngsters, all males, wearing yellow KB T-shirts and headbands. Many are carrying pennants. Some are blowing bugles, while one, wearing a white-haired wig, is using a vuvuzela (a plastic horn). But Sneha’s apprehensions are soon becalmed, as she spots two middle-aged couples, as well as a young girl, in a white top and blue jeans.
Soon, the KB players begin a practice session at one side of the field. They run between the markers, twisting and turning. Then they have heading-the-ball practice, and kicking back the ball to a player who throws it at them. KB midfielder Victor Herrero Forcada takes a corner kick and swerves the ball into the net. He has one advantage: there is no goalkeeper.
At 6.55 p.m., an extraordinary thing happens: there is a pin-drop silence in the crowd. That's because the national anthem is being played. It feels surreal, this sudden quiet. But the deep respect and love for the country is palpable. Everybody stands at attention. But the moment the anthem is over, there is a huge roar from 62,000 people.
“Watching a match live is so much better than seeing it on TV,” says Sneha. Indeed, she is surprised at how crowded the pitch is, the players so close to each other, unlike on TV, where you feel there are large spaces, thanks to the distortion of the camera lens. Then she looks to the right, and says, “I can spot a student from my school. Three of my friends said that they would be coming today. This is so much fun.”