It was all like a new beginning for the Kerala Blasters. With fresh faces under the new coach, with a new captain of calibre and new strategies, Kerala set tone for the sixth edition of Indian Super League with a thumping 2-1 win over ATK in Kochi on October 20.
In fact, the win should be credited to Kerala Blasters’ 12th player –`Manjapada’ (Yellow Brigade), the most fanatic and the largest fan-following of any team in the ISL. They also pushed behind the bad days, overcame the depression, regrouped themselves, came back roaring from the stands and stamped their pole position in the ISL in the opener. Only difference was that the team had only a few old faces, but the fan-base still had all those old faces mostly. The man of the match award undoubtedly goes to the 12th jersey.
True to their expectation and riding on their renewed trust, Nigerian-born Frenchman Bartholomew Ogbeche led the team from the front, scoring a brace even after going down in the very sixth minute of the game. Carl McHugh opened the scoring for ATK while Ogbeche restored parity in the 30th minute and then increased lead, moments before going into the break. The statistics also show how Kerala Blasters have changed on the ground. They were not a dejected outfit after conceding the lead. Unlike the previous season, they stepped up the attack and surged ahead. They had 54% of ball possession and 72% of passing accuracy which augurs well for the team, revamped by Eelco Schattorie.
In fact, the best player award should go to Manjapada, the 12th man. The last season was disastrous for them. It was eventful too. The team won only two games in the season and finished 9th in the league of 10 teams. The fans clinged on to hopes and stayed solid till the half way. The coach left the team halfway and their darling player C K Vineeth had to face the ire and fell out of the love. Vineeth, who left the team towards the final stage, even hit out at the fans for losing hope and blaming them for the players. The flashing point was the fans even boycotted the home match against Jamshedpur FC, with otherwise yellow-painted packed stands remaining empty.
A Kerala Blasters fan group on Facebook called ‘Manjappada Kerala Blasters fans’ held a poll and found that 85% out of the 18,000 fans supported the boycott. It was really demoralising for all. That’s how the Manjapada which is bit enigmatic too. They are frenzied like English fans a bit. But unlike the English or the Latin Americans, Manjapada had a longer patience and now they showed that they are mature too.
They came back burrying all bad memories under the carpet and trusted the team. We witnessed over 36,000 viewers in the 40000-capacity stadium. They painted the stadium again yellow giving an electric atmosphere, and it proved to be the much-needed elixir for the team which went out for the first match. Hats off to Manjapada.