Kolkata: The ‘City of Joy’ where football is not only a sport, but a way of life, emotions and feelings are attached to it. It is the language of many in Kolkata and nowhere were people more happier when the U-17 World Cup was announced to be held in India. Considered to be the heart-beat of Indian Football, the FIFA quite rightly gave Kolkata it’s due, when it picked the city as the venue for the U-17 World Cup final.
Although regular international football is not a common scenario in India, the country did not disappoint when the U-17 World Cup kick-started on October 6. The attendance record crossed the 1 million mark in the last pre-quarterfinal match between Brazil and Honduras and is just 6000 short of breaking the overall tournament attendance record set by China in 1985. With a average attendance record of 43,000 in almost all the group matches, Kolkata played a major part in the achievement before notching up the highest attendance (66,000) in a single U-17 World Cup match, in the epic quarter-final clash between Brazil and Germany.
The city owns a rich football legacy with many players born here representing India. Mohammad Salim, the first Indian player to play for an over-seas club (Celtic FC) and Shailen Manna (One among the 10 best captains of the World, chosen by FA) leads the charts.
The otherwise successful World Cup stood in jeopardy when the Semi-final clash between England and Brazil had to be shifted out of Guwahati, because of severe rains deeming the pitch un-fit to host a match. There could not have been any better stadium than YBKS in the country to host the match and as luck would have it, Kolkata was chosen. While many countries, let alone cities would have failed to attract enough audience in two days time, Kolkata did not disappoint. A record 63,000 people attended the match, with tickets sold-out within three hours.
Kolkata’s love for South American flair is well known and was evident in the matches where the Samba boys played, as men in yellow cheered in numbers irrespective of the opposition. But although Brazil lost the semi-final against England in front of an audience that made them feel at home, love for the game has not declined in the ‘Mecca of Indian football’.
The Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium which after the renovation and safety measures has turned into a world class museum that awes you everytime you stare at it, has prepared itself well to host the two teams as they step out to fight a final battle to achieve the crown and so has the people. The tickets were already sold out even before the teams for the final were decided.
The city that hosted Pele, Maradona and many other legends of world football has lived up to it’s billing and will not disappoint come October 28.
Someone once truly said, “Cricket is religion in India, but football in Kolkata, is a way of life.”