"Actually, the crowd is slightly less," grinned former India defender Manohar Topno, sitting with his cap reversed. "During the 2011 national games, they were watching from those trees," the national team stalwart of the 1980s added as over 5,000 hardcore hockey fans rooted for Ranchi Rhinos.
The stands were a sea of flaming red flags and caps, the predominant colour of the Rhinos, who obliged the galleries by outplaying Mumbai Magicians in the inaugural Hockey India League tie as big-time hockey arrived in one of India's foremost nurseries of the game on Friday.
"I tell these boys this franchise league should have happened during my time. I would have commanded a cool Rs 60 lakh," added Topno, on of the fittest during his playing time. "Our players rubbing shoulders with foreigners should help them improve their fitness."
Next to him sat Sylvanus Dung Dung, another shining example of India's tribal hockey talent and a member of the victorious 1980 Moscow Olympics team. Two rows away, a young mother sat holding her infant as music blared during the break between two quarters.
A sprightly man who will turn 64 on January 27, Dung Dung was delighted Ranchi was growing as Jharkhand's sports capital, a status enjoyed for long by Jamshedpur. As the crowd swayed and drums boomed for the opening ceremony, a far grander formal inauguration was happening at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association stadium, venue of Saturday's third ODI between India and England.
"This game is skilful and speedy. Hockey is still popular in these parts. Hockey runs in their blood in every family in this belt," added Dung Dung.
A youngster jumped with joy as the Rhinos found the first goal, quickly calling a friend to excitedly announce, "We've just scored".
An organiser gushed: "For the first time in HIL, we have a full house." Another was busy clicking pictures of a cheergirl with his mobile phone.
That Ranchi is one of the nurseries of Indian hockey was confirmed when one walked into the modest airport arrival lounge two days earlier. One searched for a smiling MS Dhoni poster, instead it was the red and yellow Rhinos hoarding that greeted the passengers.