Hopes on home turf for Bengaluru FC

Ahead of Bengaluru FC’s first home game of the 2023-24 Indian Super League, goalkeeper-vice captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and forward Sivasakthi Narayanan share their pressure and excitement
Bengaluru FC forward Sivasakthi Narayanan and goalkeeper-vice captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. (Photo | Express)
Bengaluru FC forward Sivasakthi Narayanan and goalkeeper-vice captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. (Photo | Express)

BENGALURU:  It’s that time of the year again, when the football fever engulfs the entire nation, with fans cheering on their favourite clubs to battle it out for ultimate glory. After a disappointing start to the 2023-24 season of the Indian Super League, home favourites Bengaluru FC (BFC) are hoping the support of adoring fans at Sree Kanteerava Stadium will help them get some points on the table at their match against East Bengal FC (EBFC) this evening.

“In terms of results, we haven’t had a good start to the season so far. But I think they were two difficult fixtures, away from home. And it wasn’t something that we as a team were able to handle well. Hopefully, things change in the next game,” says Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the star goalkeeper and vice-captain of BFC. He further adds, “We are optimistic, and excited to play at home in front of our fans. The atmosphere and feeling you get at home is something that you can’t get during an away fixture. We just need to make sure that we enjoy ourselves and give something back to the fans coming to the stadium to support us.”

After an encouraging turn of form last season, the Blues finished as Runners-up in the ISL, the Super Cup and went on to take their first title at the Durand Cup. But their plans to carry on that momentum to this season hasn’t worked out. “In terms of the whole team, everyone is missing our captain Sunil Chhetri. While we’ve done well to adapt to the circumstances, we’ve also had Halicharan [Narzary] not being available for the first two games,” says Sandhu, adding “We’ve had other avenues without Sunil bhai’s presence. Even during the previous season, he had to miss out on a few games. So it’s not like we are not used to it. But with him coming back, it gives us another option and hopefully, with his experience, we’ll be in a much stronger position.”

Meanwhile, emerging talent Sivasakthi Narayanan, whose impressive form last year helped turn around the team’s fortunes during the later stages of the season, hopes to regain that form. “I was happy to feature in the first two games, but I wasn’t able to score a goal or provide an assist. Looking forward to our first game at home, I hope I can play my part and I’m certain that we are in good shape for it and will walk away with the result we want,” says Narayanan, who hails from Karaikudi. He further adds, “After I signed with Bengaluru FC I feel as though I am representing my home because of the support I have received from the fans and the club as well. The fans are something special.”

Often touted as a talent capable of national and international glory, Narayanan is also compared to Sunil Chhetri favourably. But Captain Sandhu stresses that the comparison only serves to put unwanted pressure on Narayanan. “Comparing Shiva Shakti to anyone else is putting pressure on a young talent. He’s a different player and has different skill sets from what Sunil Bhai has. What Chhetri bhai has done for the club and the country is a gargantuan job to replicate. So it’s not fair to put someone in that spot,” he says, adding, “It’s important for me to provide a platform for Shivsakthi to do his own thing, rather than expecting him to fill any void in the team.”

Meanwhile, Sandhu is full of praise for BFC’s ‘proud fans’, whom he credits for introducing football culture to the country. “We have the best fans in the city. Very proud and extremely innovative. I think fans of BFC were some of the first to bring that culture of English and European football over here and show everyone how it’s done. I’ve never seen fans show their disappointment at the team, they’ve always been with us, encouraged us,” he concludes.

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The New Indian Express