It started right from the metro trains. The crowds had gathered in humongous numbers after watching Sunil Chhetri’s video on social media. But still, the tea seller around the corner of the stadium wasn’t aware of what was actually happening. “Aaj cricket match hai kya yahan (is there a cricket match here today)?” he asked. He was amused to learn that it was a football game between India and Kenya that attracted such an enormous crowd.
The video was posted after the Indian team skipper’s spirits were dampened after seeing only 2,569 fans turn up for the 5-0 win over Chinese Taipei. At least, his plea did not fall on deaf ears.
The Mumbai Football Arena, which has a capacity of about 8,500, was painted blue. To their respite, even the thunderstorm showed up. And the stadium matched the loud roaring thunderstorm with its one-of-a-kind ‘thunder claps’.
Seats worth Rs 250 were sold out and just a handful of seats in the VIP section went unsold.
Abhishek Bachchan and Sikandar Kher in the stands.
He later took to Twitter to put across his appreciation. “We promise you that if that’s the kind of support we get every time we play for the country, we will give our lives on the pitch. India, this night was special because we were in this together. Those in the stands shouting, and the ones at home cheering — thank you!” he wrote.
Although, coach Stephen Constantine wasn’t entirely pleased with Chhetri pleading for people to come and watch the match. “I don’t feel we should be begging people to watch their own national team. The crowd today was terrific, and this is what we expect. The things we achieved in three and half years, it was sad to see the last turnout. Today, the crowd more than made up for that,” he said after the match.
After the final whistle, it was the prevalent Sunil Chhetri portrait: Chhetri joining his hands to thank all and sundry around the small stadium along with the team. He made sure that they went to every corner of the ground.
In so many years, there has never been a man selling replica jerseys on the stadium’s gate before a football game. But there was one on Monday. He got just 1,000 shirts with half of them already getting sold half an hour since he set up shop.
The stadium has been home to many games including the Indian Super League franchise Mumbai City FC and never have the words ‘sold out’ been seen while booking tickets for any of them.
One stand belonged to the ‘Blue Pilgrims’ who are around the stadiums for all national team outings. They painted the landscape with the tri-colour. At night, this particular stadium echoed ‘Jana Gana Mana’ to the loudest.
The COO of BookMyShow Non-Movies, Albert Almeida was surprised as well. “Sunil Chhetri’s heartfelt appeal, amplified by the media and national icons including Virat Kohli, made a miraculous difference to the response to the ticket sales for the match between India and Kenya,” he says.
Another stand with 1,000-odd seats was bought by YouTuber, Nikunj Lotia who goes by the handle ‘beyounick’. Right after Chhetri’s video, he posted a series of photos on his Instagram stories to explain the process to the fans about getting tickets for free. “Have booked the entire stand number 4 for all you football fanatics!” he had posted on his Instagram account on Sunday. The stand was bursting with noise and cheer.