It’s not often that you see a new club challenge the old order in football. But Bangalore FC has done just that.
As the I-League reaches its half-way mark,the JSW Group-owned club,formed barely six months ago,has been making all the right noises and is topping the league standings.
The clubs unique marketing initiatives have already helped it build a strong fan base. Almost every home game has been sold out. Sundays game against one of the oldest Indian clubs,East Bengal,will be no different.
The 8,000-odd crowd includes a unique mix of college students,families,children and women.
The energy from the stands has rubbed off on the players. Indias captain Sunil Chhetri,his Indian team strike partner Robin Singh and a Rooney Sean Rooney play for the side,managed by former English Premier League professional Ashley Westwood as coach.
They now sit on top of the I-League table,six points ahead of second-placed Sporting Clube de Goa. With 8 goals in 13 games,Chhetri is the second-highest scorer in the league.
If you have ideas and know how to implement them,then its not that tough to run a club as it is made to look. Many of us at the club had seen matches in Europe first hand and our idea was to bring a similar culture to stadiums back home, said Bangalore FCs CEO Mustafa Ghouse.
Westwood,a former Manchester United,Bradford and Sheffield Wednesday defender,knew his responsibility would extend much beyond the conventional role of a manager the moment he signed on the dotted line.
In the run up to their first home game in September,he went around distributing pamphlets and spreading the word around local shops and malls. Westwoods performance as the de facto head of the club has not gone unnoticed. He is rumoured to have got offers from English clubs Bury FC and Crawley but has decided to stay put.
Bangalore also tied up with a brewery near the ground,which is now their official pub. Here,their games are shown on a giant screen and are even preferred over EPL ties. Season tickets are sold to build a strong fan base. Daily tickets are priced ranging from Rs 30 to Rs 500.
Its not that we have an enormous budget. But we know we had to put a concentrated effort to get the public to the stadium. People in India are crazy about football. Its about spreading the word and making the locals aware that we exist, Ghouse said.
Ghouse,a former national level tennis player,talks from experience. While practicing at the tennis courts at MSLTA,Ghouse would only realize there was an I-League match happening at the adjoining Cooperage football ground when the motley crowd would cheer. There would hardly be a buzz in the city on match day. Naturally,the stands would be deserted.
Ghouse was determined to make his club buck the trend. We understand the scenario in Indian football when we entered. We tried to implement a few ideas we had and the response is way beyond our imagination, Ghouse said.
This,though,is the honeymoon period. In the fickle world of Indian football,it doesnt take long for things to change. Like Bangalore,Mumbai FC too came up with some innovative ways to engage the public. However,sharp budget cuts meant the marketing gimmicks had to be shelved. Ghouse,however,assures they will not go back on the standards they have set.
We realise there will be challenges as we progress. But we do not have any intention of reducing our efforts, he said.