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ISL 2019-20: Kerala Blasters can't afford another fan boycott

05:26 GMT+3 14/10/2019
Manjappada Kerala Blasters
The attendance figures at the famed Kochi stadium have been poor in the last two years...

After five years of Indian Super League (ISL), Kerala Blasters remain the most followed team in the league despite not having won a single trophy.

Whenever the name of the club is mentioned, people associate it with the humongous support they enjoy in India and also abroad. They are one of the most followed clubs in Asia and have a social media presence that is bigger than some of the European top-tier clubs. 

However, the team's recent displays have failed the fans. Ever since the final heartbreak against ATK in Kochi in 2016, Blasters are yet to come to life at the Kaloor Stadium. And this has brought about widespread criticism.

 

The numerous lifeless performances by the team under both Rene Meulensteen and his successor David James ultimately resulted in a controversial form of protest by a large section of supporters. They boycotted the team's games and refused to come to the stadium. The Kaloor Stadium recorded the lowest-ever attendance for a Kerala Blasters home match in February 2019  - 3298 against Chennaiyin for a 3-0 win that ended a 14-match winless run under then-coach, David James. 

Two seasons of failed projects later, a change in personnel came into effect at the management level. As for the team, Eelco Schattorie was brought on board to lead a new-look side.

The current squad that is set to kick-start the sixth season of ISL with a clash against ATK on October 20, looks strong on paper. But injuries to key players and bad results in pre-season will put the new-look side under a bit of pressure early on, considering they've won just three home games since December 2016.

Blasters need better displays and results, for sure. They also need their huge fanbase - the club's USP - on their side. It is no mean feat that a club has enjoyed such popularity without having won silverware but Kerala's undying love for the sport has made that a reality. 

In a business where clubs are shutting down and recording huge losses, a fan boycott can heavily impact Blasters' image in Kerala. This is a state that discusses and breaks down every single result and performance and gets into heated debates on whether Blasters are on the right track or not after every match they play. The level of scrutiny is high and the margin for error is small.

Whether matchday boycott is the right way to go about it is a different question altogether. But it is important to keep the supporters happy and for that, the team needs to play good football at home and get going right from the off - they need to show vigour and intent in front of their fans. They have a good set of players and the right coach who has done well under pressure at his previous clubs. In Kochi though, can Eelco and co. pass the test?