The city of Pune believes as the Maratha Stallions march into the semis of the ISL 2018

Updated on Mar 05, 2018 02:39 PM IST
FC Pune City is in the Indian Super League semis. Does the city care? Much more than may be evident right now
FC Pune City players celebrates a goal during match 11 of the Hero Indian Super League between FC Pune City and Mumbai City FC held at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex stadium, Balewadi.(HT FILE PHOTO)
FC Pune City players celebrates a goal during match 11 of the Hero Indian Super League between FC Pune City and Mumbai City FC held at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex stadium, Balewadi.(HT FILE PHOTO)
Hindustan Times, Pune | ByPranav Shahaney

In the era of sports leagues in the country for almost every sport now, with heavy celebrity and fan involvement, a number of top cities have been treated to spectacles and tournament conquests by their local teams.

However, the story of Pune is slightly different, and extremely disappointing for the sporting enthusiasts in the city.

No Pune based team has managed to secure a sporting league title in any sport - be it cricket, hockey, basketball, kabaddi, badminton and even football. That being said, things could look completely different within a couple of weeks, as FC Pune City - Pune’s ISL (Indian Super League) franchise - is on the cusp of getting within striking distance of their first league title, after qualifying for their first semi-final in their four-year ISL history.

ISL’s digital reporter and matchday coordinator Oumar Aga couldn’t hide his joy when FCPC qualified for the semi-finals. Being a football enthusiast along with having the added benefit of being part of the ISL media team, Oumar has interviewed team owners, players and a number of revered personalities. The emotion he encountered on learning that Pune qualified for the penultimate leg of the competition was absolutely second to none, he says.

“I’m overwhelmed by the occasion. It feels great. I’m bullish that we can topple the other teams and get our hands on the coveted ISL trophy. We’ve been waiting for it since the inception of the league and never seen FC Pune City qualify for this stage and here we are now, finally, finishing the intriguing league phase and heading into the play-offs. Words cannot describe how I’m feeling, to be honest,” says Oumar.

This is undoubtedly a proud moment for enthusiasts in the city who have patiently endured three seasons of sub-par performances despite attracting some pretty exciting players and head coaches that have achieved success in the ISL and other competitive leagues abroad.

Although this time around, under the tutelage of Serbian pragmatist Ranko Popovic, the team has had a different vibe and solid performances by players have replicated into vital points on the table which sees the Maratha Stallions sit second on the league table – having qualified for the semi-finals comfortably.

The he two-legged semi-finals commence on March 7. It is virtually impossible to sum up the euphoria felt by the passionate FCPC supporters that have followed the team through thick and thin, and they’re already starting to dream big and cannot wait for their stallions to get their hands on the trophy come March 15.

The fan fever is catching and Shraddha Phase admits to being in love; with FCPC, i.e. “It’s such an amazing feeling to see FCPC qualify for their first ever semi-finals. I have been following all the matches of the club since the start of the season. I have attended all the home matches and a couple of away matches in Goa and Bengaluru. It’s been an amazing experience with the fans and everyone here is so happy and enthusiastic about the next couple of games.”

Then there are the young footballers in the city, like St Vincent’s High School’s u-14 left winger, Bryan Luis, who says, “The turn of results this season has been unbelievable. Over the last three years our recruitment wasn’t that great, but I feel this season we’ve got our balance right. Also, Ranko Popovic has successfully managed to get the best out of his players and I’m extremely proud of FC Pune City. This season’s performance has given me the motivation to one day play for them and I have also taken part in a number of their trials. Hopefully I’m called up one day as I dream about wearing the orange and purple jersey for my local team.”

Yash Ranka, a season-ticket holder and an impetuous member of the Orange Army, which is FC Pune City’s official supporters’ club, believes that this season’s team has been far superior compared to the teams of the past four years. “The passion and intensity that Popovic has brought out from players has been second to none and he’s got Pune playing the brand of football that excites the fans in the stands,” Ranka says.

In the recently concluded Maharashtra derby which saw FC Pune City humble cross-state rivals Mumbai City FC, Yash was one among numerous Punekars that made the short trip west to cheer on the Maratha Stallions. Speaking about the experience in Mumbai, Yash said: “The Mumbai journey was one the most memorable trips for me. It was my first travel with the Orange Army. We set out in buoyant mood at noon and seldom kept quiet on our way to the stadium. On arrival, we painted the entire stand Orange with our posters and chants. The performance was incredible and to celebrate with the team after a win in the Maharashtra Derby is always special.”

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