The people of Calcutta – easily the go-to city for football in this country – fulfilled what was expected from them. A near full house. When the announcement rang out to furnish the numbers, the gathered 66,613, let out a collective roar as if patting each other’s back for the accomplishment. Accomplishment it is, as it edged out New Delhi to record the highest attended match in 2017 U17 WC. The India vs USA group-stage match played at the capital’s s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium had held an attendance of 52,000. Incidentally though the actual capacity of Salt lake Stadium is a shade under 85,000, the available capacity, adjusted for security and safety purposes is ‎66,687.

The context

It was a quarterfinal encounter between Brazil and Germany in this ongoing FIFA U17 World Cup tournament. And this city being a bastion for the Brazilian supporters was expected to drive its fans in droves to the stadium. And it did. Apart from the locals some dyed-in-the-wool fans were seen straight from Brazil to take to the stands. One such was Louis who had come, believe it or not, all the way from Curitiba, the capital of Southern Brazilian state, Parana. Displaying his intention through his Seleção jersey – with no.14 written on the back – only because it is his favourite number, he had come here to avenge the seven goal defeat. He had also taken to the stands in the Olympics match between these two countries after that infamous semi-final encounter in the last men’s World Cup. Though Brazil won that match, it seemingly wasn’t enough. He wanted to bear testimonial to a win by the young ones and only then his anguish would be absolved.

Incidentally talking about Brazil-born attendees, Alvito D’Cunha, Luis Barreto, Charles D’Souza  – players who have plied their trade in Indian soil and have garnered gallery-support, enjoyed their reversed roles. Sat alongside, countrymen, Cavin Lobo, Gabriel Fernandez, they were also accompanied by their physio Garcia.

Women folks also too took a shine to this ‘final’, before the real one and were seen to flock to the stadium.

The heart of the matter

Except for the one that took place in Mexico, no U17 World Cup had witnessed such an outing. Paulinho, the star forward, had later confirmed in the mixed zone that he had never played in front of sixty thousand plus strong crowd. So far he had played in front of about thirty thousand people in his club matches. It remained as a huge experience for him. If he is to be believed he would like to return to this cosy environs just for the warmth of the sizable supporters. He also let us in on his yearning to play in the finals which will take place in this very stadium and needless to say in front of an equally big crowd. He vowed to return if only for this vociferous support.

Incidentally the FIFA officials were themselves astounded by this huge turnout when they hear the announcement.

Just numbers is one thing but the beating hearts in the numbers– now that’s a different matter all together. Confirmation came from the Brazilian coach, Carlos Amadeu who gave a ten upon ten rating, speaking about the reception. He even went on to say that if he could accord it a higher rating on a scale of ten, he would do that too. Even he expressed his desire to return for the finals knowing fully-well, that travel he may to other parts of the country and despite the support he would garner he it won’t be the same like this newly refurbished Salt Lake Stadium.

Sensing that the crowd was to their favor Alan was seen to swing up and down both his arms to gesticulate the supporters to egg on the team. Promptly after scoring, both the scorers, first Weverson, then Paulinho ran towards the gallery to get splashed by the adulation.


What’s next?

As far as the World Cup is concerned there are two semis, both on this Wednesday, October 25, to be done with – one at Guwahati (Mali Vs Spain; 5 PM) and the other at Navi Mumbai (Brazil Vs England; 8 PM). Navi has so far the recorded the poorest attendance and Guwahati with 23, 850 doesn’t have the capacity to overtake Calcutta.

And as far as Calcutta is concerned, it will not only host the final but also the third-place match which will be held earlier on the same day. Two last encounters in this first-ever World Cup for the price of one ticket should be irresistible.

Author’s take

If Brazil will manage to reach the Final, the city will go berserk. Repeat strength in attendance will be guaranteed. Even if they do not, the gallery will be plastered with football-crazy ‘footizens’ for sure. Be it to see the future of Spanish Tiki-Taka, the ‘homeboys, ’English Young Lions (England played their home games in Calcutta) or the exotic African lads. Come October 28, it is being hoped – no – make it a certainty – that ‘Let football take over’ fervour will chalk up at least 66, 614 in attendance – what say?

Categories: Features