Delhi isn’t a football city. It had Durand Cup but doesn’t host anymore. It does not a great footballing culture and people do not appreciate football. Engaging with fans in Delhi is one of the toughest tasks, with it being very hard to see them turn up in numbers at stadiums.
If the above wasn’t enough, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium isn’t conducive to football as the stands aren’t close to the pitch. There have been several reasons cited as to why Delhi shouldn’t have been awarded the opportunity to host India’s Group A matches of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
It must be remembered that when Bayern Munich came to India back in 2012, the Nehru Stadium only saw close to 25000 fans. If a team which had the likes of Phillip Lahm, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and more could only attract less than half the capacity, then you know that something isn’t right with regards to the football culture in the city.
Schweinsteiger had told Goal back then that he was surprised to see the empty stands in Delhi
We wouldn’t get into the organizational aspect of the FIFA Local Organising Committee (LOC) with regards to water and sale of tickets as that has been already documented.
The Nehru Stadium’s stands were empty before the India game against Colombia. However, 40 minutes or so before the kick-off, the stadium was draped in blue as opposed to the blue of the empty seats in the first game.
“There was a letter sent by Sports Authority of India (SAI) Director General, Injeti Srinivas to schools that they have to send at least 100 kids. It was made compulsory,” informed an All India Football Federation (AIFF) official.
The kids displayed unconditional support to Team India by banging the seats, roaring and cheering every tackle or attacking move. The atmosphere in the Nehru Stadium was one of the best and not less than any football stadium in the country.
It was one thing to bring people to the stadium and it was another thing altogether to get them to create an atmosphere that made for intimidating viewing if you were the opponents of the home team. Like they say, you can only lead a horse to the water, you cannot make it drink it.
This is where SAI DG Injeti Srinivas' ingenious idea of bringing school kids to watch the games turned into a masterstroke.
India U17 team COO Abhishek Yadav duly acknowledged the role the crowd played in India's performance. He said, "The crowd were fantastic on the night, creating a cauldron of noise. They were roaring the team on at every instance and gave the boys belief during the game. They were the perfect 12th man the boys needed.
"The credit has to go to Mr. Injeti Srinivas for bringing school children to watch the game. Not only were our boys inspired by their performance, I'm sure many of them also would have left the stadium with dreams of playing for India in the future."
One of the first things coach Luis Norton de Matos said at his press conference was: “I would like to thank the fans.”
One of the positives of inviting kids to watch football games of the Under-17 World Cup is that anyone who would have witnessed a Jeakson Singh score or an Anwar Ali clear the ball with ease, would certainly get inspired.
They will have heroes to look up to, a chance to dream about being a professional football player. Or they could even take up watching the sport, which only increases the popularity of the beautiful game.
Ask any football fan about their experience at the Nehru Stadium, he/she would testify that the manner in which the kids supported India needs to be applauded.