‘After grand welcome for Kerala Blasters, we will campaign against referee’s decision,’ says Manjappada on controversial ISL match

Fans welcomed the returning Kerala Blasters squad with chants of 'We are with you, Ivan' at the Kochi airport on Saturday afternoon. Earlier on Friday night, Kerala Blasters were knocked out of the ISL after a contentious goal by Bengaluru FC and Indian striker Sunil Chhetri.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Mar 04, 2023 | 5:05 PMUpdatedMar 04, 2023 | 6:48 PM

(Left) Bengaluru FC and Indian striker Sunil Chhetri who scored the controversial goal; (Right) Kerala Blasters fans popularly known as 'Manjappada' at the ISL match

The knowledgeable fans of the Kerala Blasters Football Club (KBFC), popularly known as Manjappada (Yellow Army), have not stopped criticising the match officials of the controversial ISL knockout game against the Bengaluru FC (BFC) on 3 March, Friday, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

Drama unfolded at the game in Bengaluru when the Kerala Blasters forfeited the match following a walkout in the 96th minute of extra time. This was due to veteran Bengaluru striker Sunil Chhetri’s “quick” free kick past the Kerala Blasters goalkeeper while he was still organising the wall.

“A quick free kick should be quick. Not after 20 seconds. So it cannot be called a quick free kick as the referee asked our defender to move back 10 yards,” Manjappada spokesperson Fasil Furos, who was present in the stadium during the Kerala Blasters-Bengaluru FC ISL match, told South First.

Also read: Kerala Blasters stage walkout after controversial goal by Chhetri in ISL 

Law number 13 of FIFA states, “If, when a free kick is taken, an opponent is closer to the ball than the required distance, the kick is retaken unless the advantage can be applied; but if a player takes a free kick quickly and an opponent who is less than 9.15 m (10 yds) from the ball intercepts it, the referee allows play to continue.”

The law adds, “However, an opponent who deliberately prevents a free kick being taken quickly must be cautioned for delaying the restart of play.”

Meanwhile, South First also spoke to the protesting Manjappada president Nikhil Thomas and other fans of Kerala Blasters to know their reactions.

Manjappada chants ‘walkout, walkout’

Speaking to South First, Ernakulam native Nikhil Thomas said that the Manjappada support Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanović without a doubt.

“We back his decision from moon to earth. We have been protesting against this kind of refereeing for the past nine years as we [Kerala Blasters)] have lost points due to such poor decision-making. We have also written letters and e-mails to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) several times. This sort of refereeing has to change in the ISL and Indian football for its betterment,” the president of the Yellow Army explained.

Noting that it was not a goal, which can even be seen in the match video, Furos said, “First, the referee Crystal John sprayed the foul spot where the ball was placed and asked our captain Adrian Luna to get back. Then suddenly the free kick happened.”

While the match officials were clearing the prevailing confusion, Kerala Blasters fans showed solidarity with the coach and chanted “walkout, walkout”.

Also read: When ex-Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was spotted in Kochi

‘A revolutionary step in Indian football’

I hope that the decision by the Kerala Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanović in the ISL match brings about a revolutionary change in Indian football, former Manjappada core member Ramees Kareem told South First.

A photo created by Manjappada taking a swipe at the ISL referees

A photo created by Manjappada taking a swipe at the ISL referees (Twitter/@kbfc_manjappada)

“This decision might open the AIFF’s eyes. So hopefully that will be a long-term advantage arising out of this mistake. As a football fan, I did not like walking off the pitch, but it is a short-term disadvantage.”

Criticising the poor standards of Indian refereeing, Kareem, who is also a dentist, added, “In the initial seasons when a few foreign referees were there, the refereeing was a little bit better. But the lndian referees are surely not up to the mark.”

Both Kareem and Furos want the AIFF to rope in experienced foreign referees from major footballing nations.

“In the ISL, we do not play with all Indian players [there are four foreign players and seven Indian players]. The same should be the case for referees. The foreign referee can play any role, either the match official or the main referee. And Indian referees can assist and learn from them,” Furos said, adding that not having the VAR system is understandable due to financial constraints.

Manjappada, Kerala Blasters fans, to protest

The Manjappada welcomed the Kerala Blasters squad at the Kochi airport on Saturday afternoon after controversial ISL match against Bengaluru FC

The Manjappada welcomed the Kerala Blasters squad at the Kochi airport on Saturday afternoon (Supplied)

Match referee Crystal John in particular is drawing the ire of the Manjappada.

“There are many instances where his decisions have been against the Kerala Blasters. It was a crucial knockout game and he should have handled it better. At times, Indian referees are intimidated when taking decisions against the likes of [big names like] Sunil Chettri,” Jijesh K Jeevan, a Kerala Blasters fan from Thrissur, told South First.

About the road ahead, Furos said, “After a grand welcome for our team today, we will initiate a campaign and protest against the referee’s decision.”

Also read: FIFA ‘red card’ to AIFF shatters hopes of Kerala-based clubs