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A teenage fan's debut in Salt Lake stadium stands: Indian win and Sunil Chhetri’s goal

A teenage Spurs fan from Delhi enjoys his first ‘live’ football match in Kolkata

Shashwata Ray Chaudhuri | Published 17.06.22, 07:02 PM
The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric

The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric

Sometimes a wish comes true when you least expect it or have not even thought about it. 

For a few years now, I have been an ardent football fan, following almost every match in the EPL, the UEFA Champions League, and every other league there is. Needless to say, with the pandemic forcing us indoors and my love for international football, my experience of watching matches has been through the television, including late-nighters beginning at the unearthly hours of 1.30am.

Little did I know that on my trip to Kolkata this time, I’d experience my first ‘live’ football match in a stadium. The day I landed from Delhi, there was an AFC Asian Cup qualification match at the Salt Lake stadium between India and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to the ground because we had arrived in the city only four hours before the match was scheduled. 

However, I was lucky that three days later, there was another qualifier between India and Hong Kong. This time I was all prepared. All through the day, I felt a rush of excitement, trying to conjure what it would be like. I was also worried because there was some uncertainty about the tickets. An online portal was supposed to be providing tickets but my father just couldn’t manage to get any. So, we decided to simply land up at the stadium and try our luck.

 

First brush with ‘black’

The players were greeted by thousands of fans

The players were greeted by thousands of fans

Shashwata Ray Chaudhuri

We had learned from news reports that tickets to the game were complimentary, but when we reached the counter, we were told all tickets had been sold out. I was ready to go back home, but Dad kept sniffing around just in case. That’s when a man came to us and whispered, ‘Are you looking for tickets?’ We nodded and he gave us two tickets for Rs 200. My father had mentioned something about ‘black’ tickets in cinemas during his young days. I gathered this was my first feeling of the same!

My heart skipped a beat. It was coming true. Though even now I was worried – had the man given us genuine tickets? The fans outside the stadium were all wearing the Indian jersey and most of them had draped the tricolour on their backs. There was a lot of drum-beating and some people had even set up fireworks displays. 

After about a 2km walk through the crowd to our scheduled gate, we entered the 70000-capacity stadium, and got to our seats. So, this was what a stadium looked like. Having watched all matches before this on television, the excitement I felt at the prospect of watching the action live was indescribable.

‘Number 11, Sunil Chhetri’

Entering the stadium involved a 2-km walk through the crowd

Entering the stadium involved a 2-km walk through the crowd

It was magical. The lights, the ground all lit up. In a few minutes the players came out to warm up, and were greeted by thousands of fans. I watched the players warm up, do shooting drills, passing and goalkeeping practice live! 

Then they went inside and sometime later the lineups were announced. The roar that went up when ‘Number 11, Sunil Chhetri’ was announced was deafening. Then the players came out and the national anthems began. More than 40,000 people sang along.

Goal! Where was the action replay?

Finally, the referee blew the whistle for kick-off. And inside two minutes, India opened the scoring with Anwar Ali. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My first match and an Indian goal in just over a minute! The crowd cheered and screamed, and we were on our feet. For a moment I was disoriented and felt that something was missing. 

Where was the action replay? Then it struck me – this was LIVE! Here, the moment is all that counts. There are no close-ups. 

There were many other chances created by India, the crowd gasping whenever the ball hit the post or was saved by the keeper. Every time there was a counterattack, the fans would scream and give instructions to the players – ‘pass the ball to Chhetri’ – as if they could hear this. They would applaud every time the defenders cleared the ball or stopped an opposition attack.

‘Indiaaa-India... Chhetriii-Chhetri’

There were huge banners all around the stadium

There were huge banners all around the stadium

Shashwata Ray Chaudhuri

The atmosphere was surreal. Every few minutes the crowd would go off chanting ‘Indiaaa-India’ or ‘Chhetriii-Chhetri’. There was synchronised clapping. Then came the Mexican wave – the crowd rising and falling with their hands up in the air. And in a magic moment, there were thousands of mobile lights on the blink all over the stadium – like stars. 

Soon, dark clouds gathered, and it started raining heavily. The high-speed winds blew the rainwater into the stands, with people screaming and enjoying every bit of it. And then came the second magic moment of the game. Forget ‘a cold, wet and windy night in Stoke’, but Sunil Chhetri could do it on a rainy night in the Mecca of Indian football, as he scored right before the half-time whistle to make it 2-0. 

Now I had seen it all – my first live match, India scores in the first minute, Chhetri gets a goal and we are all drenched. There were huge banners all around the stadium with the Indian flag. The fans cheered the Blue Tigers on the pitch as they came on for the second-half. India were on the front foot throughout the game, and with two late goals from Manvir Singh and Ishan Pandita, they secured a comfortable 4-0 win.

Next stop, Tottenham Hotspur!

After the full-time whistle, the players, dripping wet, approached the stands and waved and applauded the fans for their support. Then we left the stadium along with thousands of fans with smiles on their faces and the national flags on their backs. India had qualified for the AFC Asian Cup after winning all three of their games against Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. 

All in all, June 14, 2022 will always remain one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Now, I can’t wait to get a feel of what the Tottenham Hotspur stadium will be like!

 

 

Last updated on 17.06.22, 07:46 PM
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