THE FIRST ROUND of the new Hero I-League 2018/19 season came to an end on Sunday (October 28, 2018) and witnessed five excellent matches, which saw a number of exciting moments that left fans on the edge of their seats.
While Minerva Punjab and Churchill Brothers played out a goalless draw, the remaining four games saw a total of 12 goals scored as Chennai City FC's Pedro Manzi scored a hattrick on the opening day against the Indian Arrows while East Bengal's Mexican import Enrique Esqueda and Shillong Lajong's 19-year-old debutant Naorem Mahesh Singh registered a brace apiece.
However, the most heartening numbers from the three days were the attendance figures, as the five home venues - the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore, Khuman Lampak Main Stadium in Imphal, EMS Stadium in Kozhikode, Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Chandigarh and Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Shillong, all saw impressive turnouts.
The season opener in Tamil Nadu on Friday saw an audience of 8,262 as the hosts Chennai City FC hosted the youngsters from the Arrows, with the match ending 4-1 in favour of the home side. Saturday saw robust numbers as well as the match between NEROCA FC and East Bengal, which finished in a 2-0 win for the Red and Golds, saw 26,412 fans throng the stands, which became a virtual sea of orange.
The other match of the day saw the highest attendance among the five fixtures as 28,437 fans witnessed hosts Gokulam Kerala FC play out a scintillating 1-1 draw against the Calcutta Football League champions Mohun Bagan. The figure was also the maximum so far for a Gokulam home match in the I-League, which is a highly encouraging sign.
On Sunday, defending champions Minerva saw 8,591 fans fill in the stands for their stalemate against Churchill. The club owner Ranjit Bajaj tweeted, "First da positives 4m our season opener @ILeagueOfficial @minervapunjabfc 1.The largest turn out in the 3 year history of minerva punjab fc in Ludhiana / Chandigarh or Panchkula (2nd div incld)- so thank you soooo much Panchkula and Chandigarh #chakdittephatte 8591 2 pm match."
The final match, a NorthEast derby played in Meghalaya, featured 14,697 fans who saw Shillong Lajong record a memorable 2-1 win against Aizawl FC. Naorem Mahesh Singh, the hero of the match for Alison Kharsyntiew's men, was quoted as saying,
"Our fans are the best! They cheered for us throughout the match and that gave us more confidence to play to the best of our abilities."
Incidentally, apart from Coimbatore, every other venue which hosted a game in the first game week of Hero I-League 2018-19 has seen a significant rise in the footfall. Defending Champions Minerva Punjab FC’s first match in the previous season was attended by 5,995 Minervans at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula. On the other hand, Kozhikode (25,841), Imphal (27,633), Shillong (6,989) has also witnessed fewer spectators in the first game week of the previous edition of the Hero I-League.
According to Mr. Sunando Dhar, CEO, I-League, the Hero I-League has seen an ‘encouraging’ start and he believes that every team will build on this.
“It’s heartening to see an encouraging start to the Hero I-League this season. We have to congratulate the clubs for the marketing done by them. They have done a splendid work so far and I’m sure, every team will build on this to make this edition of Hero I-League another successful one.”
The second round of fixtures of the 2018/19 I-League gets underway on Wednesday and will see four clubs from the first week - NEROCA, Minerva Punjab, Shillong Lajong and Chennai City play hosts yet again. On Saturday, Mohun Bagan will play their first home match of the league campaign as they host Aizawl FC at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
I-League Round 1 Attendance
Gokulam Kerala FC v Mohun Bagan - 28437
NEROCA FC vs Quess East Bengal FC - 26412
Shillong Lajong FC v Aizawl FC - 14697
Minerva Punjab FC v Churchill Brothers - 8591
Chennai City FC v Indian Arrows - 8262