People who have lived the matchday experience at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi during the Indian Super League (ISL) games involving the local club Kerala Blasters will know what the atmosphere is like. The stadium would turn out to be a sea of yellow, with the vociferous crowd sending decibels through the roof. One can be forgiven for thinking that the same kind of support will be on offer for an event like FIFA U-17 World Cup in 'God's own country'. But after six group matches that involved teams like Spain, Brazil and Germany, the most likely conclusion that will be drawn is that the craze for football in Kochi is grossly overestimated. Or is it?
Kerala is a football-loving state. The areas of Malappuram and Kozhikode are used to seeing unbelievable turnouts for seven-a-side tournaments. ISL has managed to attract people from across the state but sadly, the same cannot be said for the U-17 World Cup.
The stadium capacity was cut down due to security reasons which meant only 29000 seats were available to be filled. A crowd of 21,362 saw the first game between Brazil and Spain and it led to questions regarding ticket sales considering that the tickets for the match were sold out in September. So, did approximately 7000 ticket holders choose not to turn up for the match?
Enter Local Organizing Committee (LOC), who released a statement that read:
There are contractual obligations with the Hosting Association, all the participating teams, all the 13 commercial partners of the Tournament, the host broadcaster, the signatories of host city, stadium and training site agreements and other stakeholders with which there are contracts with regards to the Tournament, to provide tickets.
All the tickets that have been put up for sale, are the maximum number of tickets that can be sold at each venue discounting these obligations.
Nobody knew of this before the game and hence all the protests and complaints which forced them to release such a statement. But this only half-explained the low turnout for the first match. What about the rest of the games?
Let's not discount the lack of supply of water for fans on the first matchday as a major reason for kids and families to stay away from the stadium. DPR Korea took on Niger after the first game in Kochi and it registered the lowest attendance in the tournament - a measly 2754. To put things into perspective, Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata registered an attendance of 55800 for a match between Iraq and Mexico, the second game on the first matchday there.
The second matchday saw the supply of water in all zones of the JLN stadium but the atmosphere was devoid of excitement and vigour. The turnouts exceeded expectations at the rest of the venues while Kochi cried for more attention.
The group stage has come to a close but all hope is not lost. Kochi play host to two more U-17 World Cup games - a Round-Of-16 match between crowd favourite Brazil and Honduras on Wednesday and a quarterfinal game that will surely feature two top teams of the tournament. For those arguing that it's U-17 football, the manner in which Spain dismantled DPR Korea in Kochi was a treat to the eyes for any football fanatic.
It is almost guaranteed that Kochi will turn a sea of yellow again next month when ISL kicks off. But for football's sake, can people in Kerala wake up for something other than Kerala Blasters? The time is now.
Follow Nisanth V Easwar on Twitter - @niktheblue94