Bengaluru FC: Reminiscing a Glorious first Decade
Bengaluru FC was born on 20th July 2013. Four days ago, the club turned ten years old. Today, their trophy cabinet boasts three domestic titles, two Federation Cups, one Super Cup, and one Durand Cup. Their supporter group, the West Block Blues, is revered across the country for their vocal support and banners. Their youth academy has the best facilities and their reserves have won two BDFA Super Divisions, and two RF Development Leagues. Even their social media pages are expertly handled, constantly recognizing their supporters and celebrating the city's culture in their posts. In just ten years, this club has become a major player in Indian football, and unlike the initial Indian Super League franchises, they built this the organic way. To put it simply, Bengaluru FC has nailed it on every front.
From convincing friends to attend games in 2013 to being 25,000 strong at the Fortress in 2023. The West Block Blues have come a long way, just like their club.
The club is in a great place today; however, their beginnings were extremely humble. BFC supporters, who have seen the early days, took to the comment section of the club's 10th anniversary social media post to reminisce about the old times. The comment section was filled with messages like, “remember those long lines outside Bangalore Football Stadium in 2013” or “remember that first title celebration on MG Road.” Knowing how far the club has come since then made it a heartwarming read.
Sriharsa Ramesh, a BFC supporter since their inaugural game in the 2013 I-League, was kind enough to share some of those early experiences with The Cou. “I started supporting BFC from the very first kick. My cousin told me that Bangalore has a football team now and that they are playing their first match at Bangalore Football Stadium (BFS). We bought our tickets online and decided to go.”
The arrangements for that first game were unlike the well-run BFC we know today – it was anything but satisfactory. Ramesh remembers, “We had to wait for 30 to 40 minutes in a long queue outside Garuda Mall (across from BFS).” All this despite buying the tickets online! “Once we finally got in, we bought jerseys at a stall inside - there were no big brand sponsors back then and we were not even sure if they were authentic, but we quickly changed into them in a corner and entered the West Block.”
Throwback to the BFS days, throwback to the I-League days - Sean Rooney in action against the mighty Mohun Bagan during BFC's first ever fixture in club history.
There must have been about 5,000 in attendance for that first game. Impressive considering the circumstances, but not impressive for a city with 9 million people. BFC was playing against Mohun Bagan, one of India’s most successful clubs, boasting 124 years of history. Ramesh says, "There was absolutely no expectation for us to win and I am sure every football fan in Bengaluru was just happy to have a football team that represented the city and state.”
The first half was a goal-less, relatively dull affair. Ramesh remembers sitting in a packed central section of the West Block, opting against a halftime snack in fear of losing his seat. Four minutes into the second half, Sean Rooney scored BFC’s first ever goal - “The West Block went crazy, and ‘Oh when the Blues’ began ringing out inside the stadium. It was absolutely magical!” Ramesh says, “that moment made everything worth it – the long wait outside the stadium, and more so the long wait that every football fan in this city had to endure before finally getting a club.”
Mohun Bagan equalized in injury time, but Ramesh says he was not disappointed – after all, BFC had just stood up to the giants of Indian football on their very first outing. After that, Ramesh remembers following BFC the entire season. As it happened, BFC managed to win the I-League that year as a newcomer – an incredible achievement that gave nationwide exposure to the club.
Sunil Chhetri and BFC supporters during the club's trophy parade in 2013. It was the first open-top lorry parade in India. Can't revolutionize football without revolutionizing celebrations.
The club’s rapid success and growth owes a lot to the club’s administration, which is widely considered a league apart from its domestic counterparts. It all started on 15th January 2013, when the AIFF announced that it would accept bids for two new, direct entry clubs, from corporate owners. The goal was to create teams outside Kolkata and Goa and improve football infrastructure outside these hotspots. On 28 May 2013, it was confirmed that the JSW Group had won the rights to form a direct-entry team for the 2013–14 I-League season in Bangalore.
In the documentary Bengaluru FC: The Road Less Taken, Parth Jindal, the Chairperson of the club, talks about how the team was brought together in those two months. “We wanted to create world class infrastructure and create a setup which can compete or compare to any setup globally.” BFC had ample investment and ambition but after getting the green light just months ahead of the new season they had no players. Jindal admitted. “What was very challenging for us was that most of the good Indian players had already been signed up by [other] clubs.” So, BFC brought in a group of contract-less domestic players, appointed Ashley Westwood (former Blackburn Rovers assistant) as manager, signed some promising internationals, and even managed to coerce Sunil Chhetri - who was fresh off a stint with Sporting Lisbon - to join.
It was an extravagant operation, but one done with plenty of meticulous planning. Chhetri has always said words to the effect of - BFC is the most professional club in India - which is high praise for someone who has been at East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Dempo during their hay day.
BFC won the I-League in their very first season, the Federation Cup in their second and the I-League, again, in their third. They had not only found a foothold in the domestic scene but had begun to dominate. However, in a rapidly growing city with 10 million inhabitants, and an area of 700 sq km, achievements like this can get lost in the commotion. BFC still needed to get the public's attention on football and the club.
This led to Bengaluru FC explicitly appealing to the local audience, unlike many Indian sports teams at the time. From the club’s crest to small details in their jerseys, BFC is a celebration of Bangalore’s and Karnataka’s culture. The club’s crest, for example, features the Gandaberunda, a mythical bird, which was the insignia of the Kingdom of Mysore (a powerful kingdom that occupied the region in the 17th and 18th centuries). It is now the symbol of the State Government of Karnataka. Behind the Gandaberunda, is an outline of the Bangalore Palace – formerly the private residence of the royal Woodeyar family, it is now an important landmark of the city. Ramesh agrees, “one thing I absolutely fell in love with [when the club was introduced] is the logo. It truly symbolized Bengaluru and Karnataka. I am proud to be born in Bengaluru and glad to be supporting BFC.” He confessed to getting emotional when he said these lines, but that is exactly what Bengaluru’s football club does to you.
Apart from becoming Bengaluru’s club, BFC had one more segment of society to win over – Bangalore’s European football fans, of which I can assure you there are plenty. Despite repeated efforts, the AIFF and other Indian clubs had never managed to entice India’s Manchester United or Real Madrid supporters to watch local football. However, BFC gradually built a fanbase and atmosphere that has hints of its European counterparts. This began to attract the city’s European fans and ten years on, the West Block is thriving like never before.
Bengaluru FC's Eugenson Lyngdoh in action against Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the 2016 AFC Cup Final in Doha. A truly historic night in Indian Football, despite the narrow 1 - 0 loss.
Bengaluru FC have had a storied first decade. They have three stars above their badge, and they seem to be in contention for the next one every season. However, every BFC fan will tell you that there is one achievement that stands out among all the glory – the 2016 AFC Cup Run. Winning a domestic title is great, but winning in Asia is unheard of among Indian clubs. During the 2016 season, just three years after their founding, BFC attempted to do just that. The Blues made it all the way to the final before coming up short to Iraqi club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. Nevertheless, Ramesh says, “My best moment as a fan was when we reached the AFC Cup final. I was in the stadium during the home leg of the semifinal. Chettri was magical that day. He scored a brace, including an absolute screamer from outside the box.”
In 2023, Bengaluru FC is the model of a well-run, sustainable football club. In 2014, Jindal said JSW took on this venture in an attempt to revolutionize Indian football. While BFC has turned many eyes onto the I-League and then the ISL, it has also deflected some onto the Indian national team. Prior to 2013, the Indian national team was a curiosity even among India’s football lovers. But, with the success of BFC and the performances of its national team players like Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet Singh, more and more people are familiar with the exploits of the national team. Ramesh admits, “I started watching and following the Indian national team only after I was introduced to BFC. I am sure it was the same for many others. Back then, Indian Football had no recognition or awareness. For me, BFC joining the I-League changed it and I’m sure for many others it was the ISL.”
The West Block Blues. They speak through their banners, they let the banners do the talking, however you want to put it.
In its first ten years, Bengaluru FC has come a long way and has brought Indian football up with it. Now, it is time to muse on what the next ten years hold. Perhaps a few more stars above the badge? A run in the AFC Champions League? An AFC Cup title? Or, maybe even a professional women’s team - something the club is lacking but working towards. Nonetheless, it is an exciting time to be a BFC fan because wherever the they go, we will follow!