The Blues have been the trailblazers in the recent years and have an opportunity to script more history on Saturday.
The Indian football environment back in 2013 did not read well for the country’s attempt to realise their tag of being “the sleeping giants” of world football. Churchill Brothers had just won the I-League then, but it was a league that was disjointed and cried out for professionalism.
The I-League’s decision to invite two new corporate-backed teams to enter the league may just have been one of the most significant steps in the country’s footballing history. Enter Bengaluru FC, a club owned by JSW Steel into the I-League. The club, run by a passionate set of owners, outlined their intentions to be different from the rest of the pack. Enter a professional trainer in Ashley Westwood, a moneyball based recruitment policy, a dedicated matchday program, fan outreach activities, packed matchdays, chants for players and a style of play that was the very envy of the league, Bengaluru have truly set the standards in India.
The Blues are on the verge of scripting history this season
Their different approach saw them win hearts on and off the pitch. The Blues’ vibrant attacking football along with the fan club named the West Block Blues ensured that the debutants triumphed in their very first I-League. The sheer impact that their league victory on the Indian football scene was unquestionable. Fans were proud of seeing an Indian football club being run on the lines of their favourite European clubs. Officials were witness to a case of how doing the right things lead to great results.
After narrowly missing out on a second successive title in the 2014-15 season, the Blues stormed back with a league victory the following year. It also marked the end of Ashley Westwood’s reign in charge of the club as he made away for ex-Barcelona man Albert Roca. The Spaniard kept to Westwood’s system but added a few subtle tweaks of his own. The semi-final match in the AFC Cup against then champions JDT from Malaysia saw the club come of age in the Asian stage as they beat the champions and became the first Indian club ever to contest in the final of the tournament.
Although beaten by the Air Force Club from Iraq, they proved the following year that their run was not a fluke. They nearly contested in their second AFC Cup final in as many years if not for a fine display from their opponents Istiklol FC to deny the Blues a final spot.
Off the pitch, the West Block Blues became the benchmark for fan bases for clubs in India. Chants for players, banners in every match, pre-match routines and a near god-like worship for captain Sunil Chhetri, were a novelty in Indian football. The support from the city’s fans did not stop with their club as the Indian national team on more than one occasions have expressed their desire to play in Bengaluru due to the voracious support. This also coincided with the West Block Blues unveiling Asia’s largest banner when the Indian team played Guam in a World Cup qualifier.
Their entry into the Indian Super League (ISL) was intended in being a test for the club against other corporate-backed franchisees. What has followed so far has been the result of faith in the coach, squad, approach and fans as the Blues became the first team to qualify for the playoffs comfortably. A highly passionate semi-final saw the Blues reach the ISL final in their very first season, thus adding another feather to their already illustrious cap.
A win on Saturday against Chennaiyin FC, being played in the comfort of the Sri Kanteerava Stadium, would firmly establish the club’s all round dominance of the Indian football environment. Whether the Blues finish off what they started, or whether their southern neighbours make it 2 wins out 2 at the Sri Kanteerava is left to be seen.