An hour before Bengaluru FC’s I-League match, the local police had their hands full with the massive crowd that gathered outside the venue. Law enforcement is rarely used in this part of the city.

Football in the city made a grand comeback on Sunday, and even a late equaliser by Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan could not dilute the significance of the occasion.

Nearly 6,500 spectators purchased tickets to watch the home team’s debut match at the KSFA Football Stadium, and it is estimated that a few thousand more enjoyed the action with complimentary tickets. The stands – usually filled with fans from fixed pockets of the city like Austin Town, Murphy Town and Gowthamapuram — now consisted of upwardly mobile urban youth, who are more at ease in the adjacent Garuda Mall.

The basic elements found at a football match — passionate support, the roar after a goal is scored — were present, but its effect was magnified. A few choice cuss words rang through the venue as well, but this compares favourably to the eerie silence of indifference.

‘Salute the crowd’

“The atmosphere was just fantastic. Before the match, I told the players to salute and acknowledge the crowd whenever they could. We need the fans, just like they need us. Hopefully, we did not let them down,” said Ashley Westwood, Bengaluru FC’s coach, after the 1-1 draw.

The Englishman promised to deliver the goods in future games, but he did lay down a few terms and conditions to help meet this end. “We want the people in the city to continue to spur us on like they did today. Just keep turning up at the venue, and we will give you something in return,” he said.

A.R. Khaleel, Karnataka State Football Association president, was convinced that the occasion was a game-changer.

“Karnataka football has entered a new era. Huge crowds, the professional setup, a fantastic team — this is what football should be. This is an eye-opener for everyone, and I hope that other clubs follow this example,” he said.

A couple of hours after the match ended, Manchester United took on Manchester City in a high-profile English Premier League clash. Many will be glad that they got a taste of the big-time right here in Bangalore.

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