Kochi: A record crowd thronged the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to watch the Indian Super League final and thousands more enjoyed the game in front of giant screens even as celebrities from the world of sports and cinema graced the occasion here on Sunday.
More than 60,000 spectators of this football-mad city turned up at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, one of the largest and noisiest stadia in the country, and watched Kerala Blasters take on Atletico de Kolkata in the title clash.
Organisers said that the spectators began to arrive at the stadium just after noon itself and as soon as the gates were open at 3pm, 60 per cent of the seats were filled up in just 15 minutes. The unlucky fans who could not get a ticket watched the match outside the full-to-the-brim stadium on a screen put up by the organisers.
Several other thousands also watched the match live on big TV screens put up at three Fan Parks across the city.
Inside the stadium, the sea of yellow-clad spectators came with headbands, flags, posters and team colour painting on their faces. Some of the posters were that of cricket icon and Kerala Blasters co-owner Sachin Tendulkar, who has a massive fan following here with a pavillion of the stadium also being named after him. Tendulkar was present along with his wife Anjali.
Tendulkar’s former national cricket team-mate and Atletico Kolkata co-owner Sourav Ganguly was also present along with ISL chairperson Nita Ambani, Bollywood Superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his son and Chennaiyin FC co-owner, Abhishek Bhachchan. Many former India players from Kerala also watched the match from the stands.
The crowd rose to a vociferous cheer when Tendulkar, Nita Ambani, Ganguly and AIFF president Praful Patel came out in the middle to herald the start of the match.
The stadium, which has been selected as one of the six host cities for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, has been one of the most attended venues in the ISL, with nearly 50,000 spectators watching each match on an average. The record ISL attendance here though was the 61,323 in the match against Chennaiyin FC in November 2014.
Football is hugely popular in Kerala and Kochi is its hotbed and this stadium is said to have filled up with more than one lakh people during India’s match against Iraq in a Nehru Cup international tournament in 1997.
In the recent past, this stadium has hosted international football matches involving India but the crowd response was not as good as any ISL matches. India played against Turkmenistan in their World Cup qualifiers match here in March this year which the home side lost 1-2. Before that, India played against Palestine in an international football friendly in February 2013 which the home side lost 2-4. More than 40,000 turned up to watch that match but the crowd was not as big as today’s.
This stadium also hosts international cricket matches, the last one being the India vs West Indies ODI in October 2014.