The wait was over. Finally, Indian arrows came to Bangalore. The under-21 team whose players are entirely consisting of Indians and have an average age of 19 and a half, came here in Bangalore and conquered hearts. At the beginning of I league most people thought they would relegate, but these boys battled on and maintained a respectable position among clubs which are mostly dependent on foreign recruits and have much more experienced players. I had avoided going to the stadium the entire season citing work, but this was different, the team I am most excited about this season coming here to play.
It was a very long wait indeed; Indian Arrows (IA) has been a topic of much discussion (called AIFF XI then). There were all kinds of opinion, some people highly critical, some highly supportive and of course the majority maintained middle path – ‘let’s wait and watch’ approach. Since, then I tried my best to get information about all the players, how the team plays and how they are doing. Indian football is still in Stone Age, so we don’t get TV telecast of the matches, so I had to rely on all kinds of sources – players, journalists, websites, fans etc. The information were highly diverse, difficult to know what to believe, so I very conveniently put a filter – Believe all positive comments and neglect and attack all negative comments! And from this I built some sort of a mental database, and then spreading that like an expert, fooling people to believe I understand a lot of football, especially when it comes to Indian Arrows. My good friend and a great football enthusiast Ribhu Bhowmick will always ask me the question I hate – “Have you seen Indian Arrows play?” But now things have changed I will say Ribhu, “Yes dude, I saw them and they rock”. Before watching them, there were nervy times. What if the things I had filtered out were all true? This is the time when chatting with another good friend, Nishant Ramela, helps. He is another great supporter of IA and knows a great deal about Indian footballers. He will always tell me nice things about the IA players and reassures my faith.
The game was not on a good day, because it was just the next day after India’s glorious cricket world cup victory. And after all this celebration, people would presumably be resting or still in that euphoria, surely asking people to come for even a Brazil vs Argentina game is foolishness so just updated that as my facebook status (I suspect the 8 likes I got were purely sarcastic!). But foolish people do exist in this world, I got a partner in crime – Aniruddha Panda (apparently, he once burned cricket bats!). So, geared with a borrowed camera, google map of Sree Kanteerava stadium (yeah I am techie!) and Aniruddha, I proceeded. Aniruddha was still sleepy (side effect of yesterday’s celebrations), I wondered if this turns to be boring, he might sleep in the stadium (we all know how crowded most stadiums are for I league games).
We reached around 1 hr before the game and my initial thought was – ‘I can see more people practicing in ground than in the stands’. Thankfully people started coming and we later estimated around 350-400 people were there. And then I saw the IA players for the first time, when they came in the ground for some warm up and practice. Goalkeeper coach Tanumoy Basu was working with Jagroop and at that moment I saw another replica of Jagroop! In same turban and yellow jersey, from a distance you just can’t identify who is Jagroop. I was unaware of any other goalie player in IA team with turban other than Jagroop. Later I came to know that this was Kamaljeet, u19 player of India (apparently the other two goalies of IA are giving exams, so no play during exam time!). While the players were practicing, I started my work of impressing Aniruddha and hopefully some others in crowds, by identifying the players (mostly by looking their names in the jersey). The referees in bright pink shirts came. The players greeted each other, while an extremely irritating music was played in background. And then it started.
First move by Indian arrows. Good move. Then IA had few more moves nothing came out. From then an extremely scrappy game started. We could hardly see a minute of continuous play; either there were fouls, throws, offsides etc. Not much creativity seen. From then most IA moves were from the infamous long balls, the players were not keeping the ball at all they were just pushing it forward (Don’t come to any conclusion as I will get back to this point at the end). HAL, on the other hand, started to look better, with J Murali really looking good, trying to control things, quite successfully. Another HAL player who impressed be was No.10, Malemnganba, whose runs from the right flank were troubling the Arrows. However, IA defence was compact, and it was very compatible with HAL forward line that hardly looked threatening. Abdul Hamza was totally shut off by Raju Gaikwad. But with long balls we did get better scoring opportunities, once Jeje was denied a clear goal via a last ditch tackle from HAL defender. But the whole point of being unattractive played in my mind, I looked at Aniruddha, who looked quite interested by the tea and snack vendors! Later he also said the teams in his village also play like this though they have little less ball control and passing abilities! So, not a good advertisement for IA so far. Amidst all this Dika took a free kick which hit the inside of the top post and just dropped in front of goaline. Some excitement. Again same, now HAL looking slightly better but can’t do much in the attacking third. And then suddenly Jeje scored. Jeje – The new Indian star – who just made his international debut, scoring 4 goals in 3 matches. Well there’s no crowd support so they celebrate amongst themselves and move on.
The crowd was mostly well behaved and silent except for few pockets – some kept shouting Murali Murali Murali (for J Murali of HAL) and then many things in Kannada which I don’t understand, and later they were sometimes shouting Gambhir, one wonders whether they were trying to motivate HAL players by giving examples of Indian cricket performance last night, anyway I had no idea what exactly was happening. In my gallery, I and Aniruddha were the only one’s shouting IA players name and booing HAL players. If it were YBK, Kolkata, I couldn’t have returned alive! In the mean time two guys came, immediately asked – ‘Is Jeje playing?’ So, Jeje’s fame has spread, and atleast two guys have came for him, good progress for Indian football. Later I talked with them, one was East Bengal supporter and another was from Delhi, so he supports IA. But I reminded him with certain pride and false air of superior knowledge – ‘its an Indian team, just based in Delhi’. So, the 1st half ended, we were leading but I was not very happy with the quality of play, there were some good moves but plenty of missed passes, few lost opportunities, and the players were not keeping the ball enough. I just reminded myself that I haven’t seen I league games for a while now and so having extra expectations. Just to be in safe side I told Aniruddha that since we have scored a goal we will be in defensive mode, don’t expect much action.
So, then the 2nd half started. Surprisingly and pleasantly it looked different. Less of long balls now. Aha, was Bulpin testing the waters in the first half? HAL also started with attacking intentions, the scrappy first half was lost now. There were passes and continuous play. And Indian Arrows got a great attack almost a goal, we jumped up shouting. No! Then the guy behind us actually pushed us down, and in a mixed kannada-hindi-english started shouting at us we are blocking his view. I tried to be smart said it is football and we are excited. He got further angry told us many things which essentially pointed that he is more pissed off because we were supporting the away team and shouting for them. And he also used the ‘F’ word, now I was angry, but there was nothing to do. However, somehow Jewel took my revenge. Immediately after this he scored! And what a nice controlled goal was it! At that time I thought it was Jeje and kept shouting Jeje’s name and later also pleading him to score a hatrick until the guy who had came here to see Jeje, politely told me it was Jewel. Ooops!!! And from then there were many more attacks. I was charged up and shouted like a mad man, the guy behind me couldn’t say anything more. Fela came in replacing Manandeep. Fela for some reason always gets into the offside trap much to the dissatisfaction of coach Desmond Bulpin, who keeps on signaling him stuff in code language.
Since, not many people were shouting, I was very hopeful that the players can hear me when I chant their names. But I was not sure about that. Later when Jagroop needed some medical attention, Bulpin took that time to give some sideline instructions to the midfield maestros – Jewel and Shilton. I shouted their names – Jewel like a good student was not to be distracted, however, Shilton instantly raised his hands and then quickly took it back! So, they can hear me. Cool. Our 3rd goal came when Shilton scored a smart goal. After a corner, HAL goalie came out, weakly punched the ball, and somehow the ball came to Shilton, who on seeing the goalie out of position quickly chipped the ball over the defenders to the goal. Most of the vocal HAL supporters had left the stadium by now and the remaining stayed quiet. So only IA chants! HAL tried hard, but Raju and Deepak were absolutely wonderful, making nice and clean tackles and clearing the ball nicely. Really IA defence has come a long way, they leaked in a lot of goals in 1st half of the league but now looks so good. The wingers – Jibon and Dika were also moving well, creating chances, their crosses putting pressure on HAL defence regularly. I also liked Vishal (Right back), who of course was extra charged as he was the local boy in the team and his family had come to watch the game. Vishal was putting a lot of effort and his long throws are great. In fact, in the whole match Raju, who is known as long throw specialist, took only 2-3 throws, most were taken by Vishal. So, we have another long throw specialist. Lalzorama (left back) was also connecting with midfield, especially in 2nd half. Not to forget about our goalie Jagroop, who although was not much tested, made few good stops and didn’t make any mistakes. The other two subs were Bikramjeet and Akshay and they came at a time when IA were having a nice tempo, and they contributed to it. My last statement essentially means they didn’t do anything wrong and I was not identifying players in the midfield well! In the mean time I spotted Subhajyoti Banerjee, who runs a blog on Bangalore football (http://gardencitysoccerstars.blogspot.com/) and popularized Bangalore football in facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Football-in-Bangalore/299683548873). Another quality is that he takes stunning photos, and I was already thinking about writing this, so thought let me talk to him, maybe I can borrow some pictures from him. Well we were just chatting and suddenly there was a goal. I missed it. Jeje spotters told me it was the sub, player no. 30 – Ok , so Fela got back in rhythm and scored after few offsides and a yellow card. 4 goals in an away match, wow.
In the first half IA were one of the worst travelers, they used to get thrashed away from home, but what a turn around, before this game they won 5-2 against Air India in another away match. There’s another big improvement, this team had a tendency of conceding late goals, this was seen from u19 levels, and continued in I league where they dropped points because of that. But now they are doing really well in 2nd half. I remember I used to say that something is wrong with the away form and conceding late goals and the coach needs to sort out these things – so credit to Bulpin and the support staff. You may criticize him for certain strategies, but the way IA has reversed, you have to give him credit.
So, the game ended and most people left. I was still hoping to meet some of the IA players. Eventually, that dream came true, yes it was a dream for long. I can tell you guys, they don’t look like you average 19-20s, they are such well built guys, no wonder they are not physically overwhelmed easily by the seniors and and big bodied foreigners in this I league. Didn’t saw all players, but Jagtar in particular looked like body builder. We appreciated that for a while before taking a closer look at the ground. Well, as I told you IA relied on long balls and didn’t kept the ball much in 1st half, if you look at the ground you know why. The ground is absolutely unsuitable for beautiful passing game, if you want to do so you need time to adapt to the conditions. I am not saying that IA boys played like a world class team but they adapted well, and that needs experience and maturity and from the looks of it, they are showing that.
One thing worth mentioning – one of the senior players in IA said that they are trying their best and asked us to support them. A plea for supporting the team which represents u21 national side and some of them are members of Indian national team too. It was so contrasting after yesterday’s cricket world cup win. I wonder when a popular sport like football, which is not only popular in world but also in India (ask people about Barcelona, Brazil or Man Utd. And you will know how popular it is here also) will get enough support for the domestic football league and national team. The national team doesn’t do too well internationally, so we won’t support them? Believe it or not, crowd support can really get the best out of the players.
Coming back to the original point. It was a satisfying day, met Indian Arrows at last, in a day where they dished out one of the best away performances. Crowd support is severely lacking but then AIFF has not advertised the team properly. Like me, not everyone sits in front of facebook and google like a zombie, so they don’t get much information. AIFF need to reach masses and tell them about all these unique and potentially popular initiatives like Indian Arrows. After this performance, 2-3 locals actually came to me and asked about the team, one asked whether this team is from Himachal Pradesh!!! Anyway, the point is after Aniruddha told that these boys are under-21 and without any foreigners, they looked impressed and happy. Let’s hope we can reach all kinds people and talk about these progresses and get them to see the players. I know this article won’t reach most of them, but please spread this message, if not the whole article.
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