I was in Germany when Bayern Munich were slated to play Manchester United in the 2010 UEFA Champions League quarters, at the Allianz Arena.I desperately tried to get a ticket, extending my shoe-string budget by nearly 50 Euros every time the page refreshed, and the prices kept increasing. They love their football back there, and soon I was left with the choice of doing away with nearly a third of my month long company allowance. I had to be content with watching the match in crowded pub in Cologne; and what a match it was! I took a secret vow to amend this, and watch at least one Bayern match in my lifetime. Alas, it is almost impossible to get a ticket for even a Bundesliga match. I could not even get to see a FC Koln match in the neighborhood of where I was located. I had to come back empty handed.
Destiny gave me another chance this January. As soon as I came to know that Bayern were coming to New Delhi to play the Bhaichung Bhutia testimonial match against India, I was excited to finally make amends for the missed opportunity. The match being played in Delhi, there wasn’t much rush for tickets (let us not start the cricket vs other sports debate here). I was not leaving any chances though, and booked it the day it went on sale. We were all set for the big day.
It was nice to see the excitement visible as we took the metro to Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium. Kids and teenagers were dressed in their football jerseys, knocking off the player names as they discussed animatedly. We were slightly late, and one of our friends who had reached early was telling us horror stories of long queues and unruly crowd. By the time we arrived, it was already 20 minutes into the match. Most of the people had gone in. The entry had been made free as enough tickets could not be sold.
We have already posted about the grandeur of the JLN Stadium, as narrated by one of our contributors present for the CWG Opening Ceremony. It looked splendid from outside. Inside, the first look that I had was surreal. After watching so many matches of international clubs, teams on TV, the view of the pitch flooded in bright light with the players on center stage was plain surreal. A minor complain though – the track surrounding the pitch made it very distant and we never felt ‘close’ to the action.
To top it all, Bayern had left no half measures with their team. Soon we were shouting like starry eyed teenagers spotting the likes of Robben, Mueller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Ollic, Ribery, Boateng and the likes on the field. The spectators were mostly college students, hyper excited themselves. Our part of the stands was nearly full (comprising 1/3rd of stadium), and the crowd was cheering every touch of Indian players (which was very rare).
The match itself was one way traffic. The moment we entered, the score became 2-0 with a Mueller goal post some heroics by Robben. The gulf in class was visible throughout. Bayern stars were toying with the Indian players, Lahm and Robben with their blistering pace in the flanks with Mueller, Gomez and Schweinsteiger with their sublime touches in the middle and forward. The Bayern defense hardly broke sweat, and the imposing physical presence meant they cleared anything that came their way. The crowd, including us, cheered the international superstars though. Two more goals came in before half time, Bayern looked good for much more.
Half time had some presentations lined up, the man of the moment Bhaichung Bhutia presented an Audi for his service to the national side. Some freestyle footballers entertained the spectators with their tricks in front of the stands.
Bayern made a lot of changes for the second half. Lot of youngsters were given a chance and Ribery was brought in. The Indian team showed a more spirited performance, and got more possession. There were even a couple of chances, but poor finishing & crossing meant they amounted to nothing. Ribery showed some of his trademark moves and Bayern had a lot of shots on goal. An encouraging stat for India though was that they kept a clean sheet in the second half.
Bhaichung went out of the field for one final time in the 86th minute to the loudest cheers from the 40,000 odd spectators who had gathered in the stadium. A role model of the next generation of Indian footballers, who hopefully will take that mantle.
We left immediately after, extremely pleased at the brilliance we saw from the international stars. We also left with a hope that someday trips to stadium to watch quality football matches will be a routine affair even in India.