As a memorable 2022 draws to end, ESPN India picks ten images that tell the story of the most extraordinary Indian sports moments witnessed over the year. In this ninth part, we feature the return of fans to Indian Football stadia -- the day when Kerala Blasters (and Hyderabad FC) fans unleashed a sea of yellow in Goa.
Two seasons in Goan bio-bubbles. 220 Indian Super League (ISL) matches played behind closed doors. All that came to an end on March 20, 2022, and who better than the Kerala Blasters fans to be among the first ones back to back their team. In an ISL final, no less.
- Kerala Blasters FC (@KeralaBlasters) March 20, 2022
Ivan Vukomanovic's side created a flutter last season after a few years of disappointment where the Blasters were nowhere near the playoffs, let alone making a final.
So, when they got to a final, he asked the fans: "Kerri vaada makkalle. (Come on in, my children)"
The match itself was a spectacle, having all the ingredients you look for in a final. Rahul KP's opening goal midway through the second half was met with an almighty roar that made Fatorda feel like Kochi.
For the next 20 minutes, with the Blasters on the verge of sealing their first-ever ISL title, the noise that came out from Fatorda was enough to make the hairs on your back stand up. It felt like it was written in the stars... On the day that their adoring faithful returned to the stands, Vukomanovic's men were about to reach the holy grail.
That's where Sahil Tavora came in. One sweet strike of the football from about 25 yards out, Prabhsukhan Gill flailing at thin air, ball nestling in the top corner, Hyderabad were level. Apart from in a small section of Hyderabad faithful at Fatorda, you could hear a pin drop inside the stadium.
They found their voice again though, they always do. Through the sheer might of their throats and power of their will, those Blasters fans tried to drag the ball into Laxmikant Kattimani's net in the 30 minutes of extra-time. They couldn't, hard as they tried.
You could cut through the tension with a knife, as the game headed into a penalty shootout. Kattimani was looking for his own redemption from a Fatorda final seven years ago.
He got it. Saves from Marko Leskovic and Nishu Kumar meant that Hyderabad wrote their own fairytale, and became ISL champions. Those in the Kerala yellow had to wait a little more for their shot at seeing their team become champions.
One thing you can be sure of is that they will wait. After all, they waited for two years for as little as watching their team in the stands again. When they got the chance to finally do that, they put on a show like little else the ISL had seen before.
The fans were back, making their voices heard, it just felt right after those two dreaded years without them.