ISL 2022-23: 'It has been like a lifeline' - FC Goa fans euphoric at getting local connect back at home venue
ISL 2022-23 has taken Indian football fans by storm, especially now that it is back to its usual home and away format, unlike the last two seasons. Meanwhile, FC Goa fans are delighted to find the local connect back at the home venue.
Image credit: ISL
FC Goa missed the Forca Goa chants in the stands for the past couple of seasons in the Indian Super League (ISL), having to make peace with playing behind closed doors. But, they seem to be loving the packed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, as the return of the fans certainly has been instrumental in Goa's ascent in the early parts of this ISL season. Goa is unique in that they have two fan clubs - the FC Goa Fan Club and the East Lower Army, both of whom weren't bogged down by the bio-bubble restrictions over the two years - they organized car rallies to escort their team buses to games and even attended training sessions from afar to make sure that players weren't feeling isolated. But for Sameer Shirodkar, a Goa faithful and a member of the East Lower Army, being back in the stands has trumped all of that.
"It has been like a lifeline. [The competition] was happening in Goa, and we couldn't see it, so it was heartbreaking. But it is what it is, and now we're trying to come back to the stands as we did before and cheer the boys. And you can tell from the home record of FC Goa. We've kept a clean sheet in both home games and won both comfortably," said Sameer.
One of the reasons fans like Sameer have kept returning to the stands every season is because of the local connection it has given them to football. Like many football fans in India, Sameer's relationship with football before the ISL began was with European clubs. That has changed with the ISL coming into the picture and bringing the aspect of going to a stadium to follow one's favourite team.
Image credit: ISL
"With FC Goa, what happens is you get your local team. It was missing initially, and that gap has now been filled with FC Goa. Our main focus is our chants - everything is local so that people can connect to them. What happens if you have local chants is it gets fans more and more involved. So, that is what we try to do. We have people from different parts of Goa, even secluded towns," added Sameer.
Apart from supporting their players at the stadium, the East Lower Army also attends away games designed to create greater awareness about Indian football. Through the ISL and its home-away fan culture, Sameer says that a lot more local fans are being drawn to Indian football. "ISL has been essential - not just in the footballing aspect, but also making people aware of football happening around India. ISL has been a new platform. It has created this atmosphere where people know there is football happening. That has helped a lot, in my opinion," says Sameer.
It is also notable that Goa's fans bring their flavour to fandom. One of the characteristics that the fans have adopted from Goan culture is the idea of Susegad, which means to be relaxed or content, but that doesn't take away from how passionate the fans are about their team.
Image credit: ISL
"People want to sit, Susegad, and enjoy the game. But they will be with the team no matter what. There will be doubts here and there, but these people, though they're Susegad, will always back the team. And, we are trying to get more and more people involved with chanting, that will come," tells Sameer.
Goa has made a great start to the new ISL season and is currently sitting in third place on the table with a contest in hand. Most fans, like Sameer, were expecting this season to be one of rebuilding but have been impressed with the bold style adopted by new head coach and former Goa player Carlos Pena. It will be taking on former champion Bengaluru FC (BFC) on Sunday to try and climb further up the table - while they do that, the East Lower Army intends to welcome them with a new tifo.