Paint the town yellow: Kerala Blasters fans descend in Goa for ISL final

Kerala Blasters fans in Goa hold up a banner saying "kerri vaada makkalle" Anirudh Menon / ESPN

"Guys, it's been a while since we [played] in the finals. We are welcoming you in Goa, come and support us." A pause. "Kerri vaada makkalle. (Come on in, my children)"

From the day the Kerala Blasters released the video of their Serbian coach Ivan Vukomanovic saying this, it has spread like wildfire. Every fan who has seen it is taking it to heart. That last line, spoken in impressively accent-less Malayalam, is from the 90's superhit movie Godfather (No, absolutely no connection with Puzo and Coppolla). In Malayalee culture, iconic movie dialogues just slip into everyday language, so this was special. Vukomanovic asked them to come, and boy, have they listened to their "aashan" (a respectful term used to address the master of a craft).

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The morning of the Indian Super League final, a wave of yellow started seeping into South Goa. Colva beach (the one nearest to the Fatorda stadium) and its beautiful, unbroken line of beaches either side saw impromptu football matches break out. They came in all shapes and sizes. A group of thirty played 15 x 15, a group of two playing separately became eight, then 14, then 20. Others waded into the Indian Ocean for an early morning dip. Cafes and shacks and restaurants and bars were filling up with strangers asking each other "cup adikkille? ... Pinallathe!" (We'll win the trophy? Of course we will!). They have come from everywhere and by any means available.

Noufal and Shabeeb rode a bike overnight from Kozhikode, 560+ kilometres away. They started their ride at 5 PM and arrived around dawn. They looked exhausted, but still wanted to go find a ball to kick around.

Sidharth flew in a couple of days ago, setting up camp at a hotel near Colva, the flight tickets having been booked the day the Blasters beat Mumbai (March 2nd, before their playoff was even confirmed, forget the announcement that the final would be open to the public).

Prasanth, from Palakkad, joined his friends from Kannur and took the overnight train to get in on Sunday, a train that was chock full of Blasters fans. They are not sure how they'll make the 10.40 PM train back (so that they can get back to work on Monday), but that's something to worry about later, they laugh.

Akshay and John came in via train too (from Kottayam, 810+ km away). Krishnan and Vivek (from Thiruvananthapuram, some 950 km away) took the previous day's train - mostly because they didn't have match tickets at the time of boarding. They managed to find a couple on Saturday upon landing. They run the popular YouTube fan channel, God's Own football, and there was no way they were missing this.

There are others who drove down in open-top jeeps, fan clubs who rented buses from their towns to South Goa. A few will be looking for tickets upon arrival, many others had booked in advance or bought tickets at 10-12 times the rate from touts. The first batch of tickets (released post the first leg) was sold out in hours on the official portal, the second batch (after the second leg) within minutes.

There are students, engineers, auto rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers, businessmen, IT professionals, bus conductors, bank managers, servicemen among this crowd. They cut across social class, religion, profession, political, age divides. On Sunday morning, on Colva, there was just some sand, the sea and a football in between them. Come the evening, it'll be just them and their team. Nothing else matters.

And it's some team. There had been disillusionment among some fans about the team in the previous seasons. It wasn't the results, but the performances. That's not the case now. As Akshay says, "we can win some, we can lose some, that's okay. But you know this team will give its all, leave nothing in the tank. Isn't that all you really want to see from your team? That they care about it as much as we do?" It's a line that underlines Vukomanovic's philosophy.

It's a sentiment that resonates with almost everyone who's landed, with everyone who partook in the wild celebrations that rocked Kerala after the semi-final win. They were unprecedented scenes.

Mass celebration for football have happened previously in the country, but have often been limited to the venue and the surrounding areas. This spanned an entire state, all 14 districts of it. Many of those used to religiously attend home matches in Kochi, travelling in from across the state. Others are new to it, swept up in the wave of collective love and happiness and relief.

Sidharth, was joined by his friend Ashwin from Bangalore on Sunday morning. Ashwin, newly married, had convinced his wife Reshmi that a Goa trip was of supreme importance. She may not have watched much football, but if anything can turn someone into an Indian football convert, it's the Blasters playing in front of a full house. Ashwin and Sidharth should know. The former, brought up in Chennai, connected truly with his home state's club only in 2016, an epiphany hitting suddenly, as epiphanies tend to. That was also the year Sidharth had seen his heart broken as he sat behind the goal where ATK beat his team on penalties. "I had never experienced a sense of loss like that before," he says. "It was simply... unexplainable, how deep it cut. It struck me how much more it meant than when the European club I support loses. From them on, it's just become a part of me."

They have been to as many matches as possible since, Sidharth travelling home (ostensibly to go home, meet family) for every home game at Kaloor, Ashwin going to every match in Chennai and Bengaluru. Prasanth and his Kannur friends travel to Kaloor every match day, shouting themselves hoarse along the way. As do Noufal and Akshay and co. They've been doing this since the inception of the club. They love that the appeal that got to them so early has continued to grow steadily.

All of them are fans that appreciate the nuances of the game, appreciate the work that Blasters' Technical Director Karolis Skinkys has put in to rectify the absolute mess that was last season, the tactical acumen and pure passion of their coach, the visible improvement that the players have shown in terms of performance and (more importantly) attitude.

It's why they've descended in numbers. They want to let their aashaan know that they've come, that they've heard his call, that they love what he's done with their team. They want him to now hear them, in person. Fatorda, at 7.30 PM, will be loud. LOUD. Much like their coach said on Saturday, win or lose, they're here to enjoy, and watch their team play their heart out and sing for them. At the end of it all, isn't that what football is really all about?