Bangalore, May 31: West Block A was sold out long before the big day arrived and the snaking queue to enter the loud, frenzy awash in blue told a tale. If you'd picked Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, the person standing next to you was quick to warn that you were in the wrong place. There was a title to defend and West Block A was going to lead the charge.
On Bangalore's big footballing night on Sunday, rain-drenched and resounding with thunderclaps, the fans of home team Bengaluru FC (BFC) turned up trumps, filling in the stands including their preferred perch in the west block, and keeping up a chant. And their reward was inching closer, until the 86th minute when Mohun Bagan's Bello Rasaq headed home a corner kick to put a sudden end to it all and snatch the I-League trophy.
Bagan, one of India's oldest football clubs, only needed a draw to lift its first I-League cup in 13 years (the Kolkata team has won the National Football League three times, the last one in 2001-02, before the tournament was re-born as the I-League in 2007) having started the match on the top of the table. Rassaq's late strike squared the lead BFC had set up in the 41st minute with a header by John Johnson, leaving the home team scrambling for a counter that wasn't to be.
But the last game of the season certainly didn't disappoint, and if anything, it leaves a great deal to cheer for. The match drew an estimated 21,786 spectators, almost twice the previous high on January 17 at the start of the season. Female supporters made up a sizable part of the gathering.
The crowd-puller that BFC has turned out to be in the two years since the club was established is what, many believe, bodes well for football in Bangalore, a city where the game once thrived but whose patronage had tapered off in recent years. The team's May 23 away fixture against Dempo had even inspired a few loyal fans to head to Goa to root for the team.
"Woke up smiling. Thank you @Arsenal. Now come on @bengalurufc, let's do this together :)," tweeted one fan early Sunday, referring to the English club's FA Cup win over the weekend. Joining in with the good luck wishes were sportspersons Mahesh Bhupathi, Ashwini Ponappa and Rohan Bopanna.
Indeed, the match got off to a promising start with BFC getting some early chances against Mohun Bagan whom they had previously met in February, losing 4-1 in February at Kolkata's Salt Lake stadium. The home team's Udanta Kumam swung a cross but striker Sean Rooney didn't connect. The Kolkata side too had its misses, notably a blast from its Haitian forward Sony Norde that hit the crossbar. Bagan's second attempt came dangerously close but was thwarted by BFC defender Johnson clearing a ball nudged in by Katsumi Yusa from inside the box having beaten the goalkeeper.
In the second half, Norde and Yusa kept pushing for the equaliser as BFC's attack seemed to have petered out. It came in the 86th minute as Rassaq's header off Norde's corner kick found the back of the net. BFC's coach Ashley Westwood decision to send in striker Sunil Chhettri at the 89th minute didn't do much for the team. Still, fans kept up a chant until the final whistle that decided BFC weren't going to retain the trophy they had won in their very first year. Mohun Bagan supporters came alive across the pitch and erupted in a roar.
"To lose it with five minutes to go was heartbreaking," said one BFC fan. But as they trooped out of Bangalore's Kanteerava stadium into the rain, it was certainly a match that entertained and a fitting end to the season.