Ajith Harish, a prominent member of Bengaluru FC’s fan army, the West Block Blues, hurriedly packed his bags in early October and headed to the smog-hit capital, New Delhi, for a two-week sojourn. Where else could he go? After all, a power play between stakeholders and the local football federation’s greed robbed Bengaluru of the chance to host one of the matches for the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October last year.
“Bengaluru not hosting the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, the biggest ever football tournament hosted in the country, came as a huge disappointment for me,” says Harish. “Not just I, all Bengalureans were gutted. Being one of the top cities, we lost a big opportunity to host it and showcase Bengaluru as a hub for football. That’s why we all [the West Block Blues] decided to go to Delhi to support the national team.”
The 50-odd travelling Bengalureans may have seemed minuscule among the 66,684 fans – a record attendance in Under-17 World Cup history - gathered in Kolkata for the final between England and Spain. In comparison, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru has only seen 25,373 as its record attendance during the Bengaluru FC vs Kerala Blasters game in the Indian Super League - just one-third of the Salt Lake Stadium’s proud figure.
Yet, in the past four years, the city of Bengaluru has risen to footballing prominence in India.
Bengaluru FC (BFC) - the home team - has bagged four titles in the last four years in Indian football. This past ISL season - their first in the IMG-Reliance-backed league - they topped the points table during the regular season and finished runners-up in a tightly fought final.
The city has also been the preferred venue to host the senior national team’s international home games since 2014. In 2017, two of India’s three home games of the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers, and in 2015, three of the four home games of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers were held at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. More recently, the Indian Super League (ISL) final was held in Bengaluru.
According to FIFA though, both Kanteerava and the Bangalore Football Stadium (BFS) - the two places that could have possibly qualified as FIFA Under-17 World Cup venues - are still woefully ill-equipped.
A closer investigation reveals that they [FIFA] aren’t wrong.