Mumbai City FC have a dedicated seating arrangement for away fans at the Mumbai Football Arena. For football fans, this is nothing new. It’s one of the basics.
In the I-League for certain games or even in the Calcutta Football League (CFL), this is very common. For the Kolkata derby, Mohun Bagan would give a certain number of tickets to East Bengal to sell to their fans and vice versa depending on who the host club is. The Green and Maroons announced that Gate three and four are for East Bengal fans in the recent derby.
Not only does it ensure that the fans sit separately and chances of altercations taking place are low but it also brings about a sense of accountability with the away team conscious of their fans who have attended the game.
Bengaluru FC had designated Puma and East Lower B stands for the away fans during their time in the I-League.
However, this is a first in the Indian Super League (ISL). Mind you, we are not being sarcastic but genuinely applauding Mumbai’s gesture. There were some fans who ridiculed this move stating whether Mumbai City FC would get enough fans to fill their stadium and do away fans really travel to watch a game in the financial capital?
The point isn’t if Mumbai can fill their stadium, it is that the club has thought of rival fans’ comfort so that they can sit together and support their team as opposed to being ridiculed and chided for supporting anyone other than the Islanders.
There was an incident in Chennai last month where it was alleged that a few Chennaiyin FC fans had misbehaved with NorthEast United’s female supporters. From fans to politicians to clubs condoned the act.
There were some tweets made which looked straight out of the Liam Neeson-starrer ‘Taken’ – ‘I will look for you, I will find you’ and so on. However, none of these individuals or celebrities took a step which would help alleviate the problem in future.
With absolutely no regulations in place with respect to the seating of different sets of fans in any of the ISL venues, one can expect such incidents to take place again during games. So, is the threat of punishment enough to bring an end to unsavoury incidents after an adrenaline-charged game? Incidents like these cannot be controlled by threats of punishment because for fans, in the heat of the moment, logic and restraint goes out of the window at times.
Mere tweets don’t help solve the issue because to get to the depth of the matter and ensure that things run smoothly, a well thought-out effort is needed. In short, some work needs to be done as opposed to tweets which although in the short-term may highlight the issue and get people to talk about it but when it comes to finding a solution for the same, not much is done.
The question which fans need to ask is whether the club they support really cares about their safety or will they only end up reacting by tweeting?
It’s for this reason that Mumbai City FC deserve all the plaudits.
It particularly applies to Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United who have fans throughout the country. If separate sitting is implemented in the ISL, it will also improve the atmosphere during games with coordinated vocal support for their teams.
Now into its fourth year, the ISL has been evolving to resemble a top-tier professional league in terms of participating teams, duration of the league and scheduling. It is high time the fans' experience is also enhanced and the first step required is for the teams to come together and implement separate sitting for the respective fans at stadiums. The share of match tickets to be allocated to the away team fans can, of course, be the home team's choice but it is paramount that two sets of fans are not given an avenue where they end up clashing, at least inside the stadium.
It is as much the responsibility of the away team as it is of the home team to ensure the safety of the fans attending a game!