A football night in Delhi

There are few cities as quintessentially Indian as Delhi. And few words as quintessentially Delhi as jugaad or innovation.
The second leg semi-final between Delhi Dynamos and Kerala Blasters at the Nehru Stadium on Wednesday was a lesson in all kinds of jugaad. The most visible - inside the stadium itself.

Some context to begin - Delhi's famed Ambedkar Stadium, located right beside the Ferozshah Kotla cricket ground, has been witness to some outstanding moments in the game. Yet after the Nehru Stadium's refurbishment for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Indian football authorities had to rescue the monolithic structure's legacy by agreeing to host every major football event at the new venue, far removed from the Ambedkar's primitive charm and old city bustle.

When the Delhi Dynamos come into town, the crowds do arrive, but in the Nehru Stadium the authorities try their best to minimise the potential embarrassment of blocks of empty seats by covering over half of the stadium with larger-than-life posters of the franchise, silhouettes of the team's acronym and other meaningless merchandise. That's jugaad right there.

Another attempt at jugaad was made on the outside with a rumour going around that Kerala fans were being made to remove any yellow items of clothing. It was put to rest before long. When the match began, the loud and proud contingents of Kerala Blasters supporters on either side of the pitch made their presence felt with all shades of yellow, colourful banners and celebration.

At half-time with the score at 2-1 for Delhi, there was a small ceremony that involved Vijender Singh, ready for his bout against Francis Cheka over the weekend, and Ian Rush, the all-time highest scorer for Liverpool. The response to the two guests from the crowd was typically Delhi - Vijender got a rousing ovation as he disappeared into the VIP stands, his name chanted with vigour as he looked up and greeted fans with folded hands. At the end, Rush gave a shy smile and acknowledged the crowd, whose decibel levels had lowered progressively.

In Delhi, the standard stock phrase in a sporting contest is the "jeetega bhai jeetega..." perfected through years of watching cricket in Sharjah involving India and Pakistan. The subtle difference here was that the PA would lead the Delhi supporters in doing the bits for Delhi, and as soon as they went quiet, some of the Kerala fans would do their own acapella version in muted undertones.

The players were given fruity advice: Marcelinho was almost always told to "bhaag bhaag bhaag (run run run)..." and a routine collection in extra time from Antonio Doblas was met with a "bahut badhiya, ladke (well done, son)". Doblas is in his mid-30s and the voice belonged to a boy who couldn't have been a day older than 17.

The Delhi crowd celebrated both the 90 minute and the 120 minute score lines, and were gracious at the end of the game, when the Kerala fans finally found their voice. There was disappointment among the supporters who have come to love Malouda & Co. The Kerala players, beaten on the night but taken through by a heroic effort from Sandip Nandy, went off on victory laps to acknowledge the fans, most of whom stayed inside the ground in celebration till late.

While leaving the venue, two little moments summed up Delhi.

A Malayalam channel's live outdoor broadcast van at the venue was shooting footage of celebrating Kerala fans. A few Delhi fans who had joined them even found a reason and were overheard, "yaar, muft mein hum bhi TV pe aa gaye (I guess we got ourselves captured on TV for free)." On the road just outside the stadium, as there was a scramble for public transport, a few Kerala fans were heard wondering how they would get home. A young man full of Delhi swagger put his arm around the shoulder of one of them, and said "arre koi nahin, kuch na kuch toh mil hi jaayega (don't worry, we will find something or the other)." This is Delhi, no matter what the problem, there is always a way around it.