Kochi: Kerala Blasters FC brand ambassador Sanju Samson was elated to witness the Yellow Army in their full vigor as the Blasters hosted Hyderabad FC in the last league fixture of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday.
Widely known for their riveting home support, Kerala Blasters FC has ridden on their brilliant home record and managed seven out of a total of 10 victories at home. Samson expressed his pleasure in experiencing the sea of yellow jerseys and his gratitude to be a part of the team.
"It's unbelievable. I think it's pure magic actually. I've definitely experienced some unbelievable crowds throughout the world but I think this one in Kerala, especially, cheering for the game, which we love. It's really amazing and I'm really grateful to be a part of them," Sanju Samson said in the pre-match show.
For anyone growing up in the streets of Kerala, football is a passion. Numerous homegrown players have gone on to make their names locally and then play ultimately for the Indian national team. Samson shared how he loved football while growing up and football is very close to his family.
"I loved football growing up because my father was a footballer. I spent the same amount of time playing cricket and football at the same time when I was young, so football is very close to my heart, and also my family," Samson said.
The Yellow Army have made it to the back-to-back playoff qualifications, missing out on the ISL trophy last season after losing in the final against Hyderabad FC. Samson stated setbacks are one of the biggest things in a sports career and no one can stop you after making a comeback with a strong feeling.
"I can tell you one thing for sure, being a 28-year-old sports fan, the biggest thing you can have in your sports career is setbacks. Yeah, if you have some setbacks, if you have some hard times and if you have some failures, then you have that burning feeling to come back from the next season. So when you come back with that strong feeling, no one can stop you in the world," Samson stated.
From a sea of yellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi to fans traveling in different parts of the country to support their team, Kerala Blasters FC has made it to the very top in terms of best fans in Indian football. Samson shed light on how when the fans are connected with the team and the franchise, it can be a daunting place for other teams to visit.
"It depends on how connected you are with your home fans. When some of the teams play in their home ground, it's an equal amount of support for both the teams but when you play in a ground like this, where you can't see any other color than yellow, then you need to worry about some things. So definitely when the crowd is connected, when the crowd really loves the team, loves the franchise then the other team definitely feels the pressure and I think the history has proven here on this ground," he said.
Vukomanovic's side will now take on Simon Grayson's Bengaluru FC on March 3 in the first eliminator match. Both teams have managed to earn a victory against each other in the last two outings. Samson highlighted the importance of focusing on your own self to win the games and the approach towards the match shouldn't change be it the playoffs or any other match.
"You need to understand that you need to be your best self wherever you're playing, any game you're playing. The focus needs to be on yourself. I think if you're 70 to 80% playing under your potential then definitely you can win the game. So the focus needs to be on yourself. If you play your best game then most probably the results come to your end. So you need to be focused on your game, be relaxed, and be composed in whatever game you play," he added.
It's the same way you need to approach and there is no knockout. I feel that if you play any knockout, any final at this stage, you have to give your best. From the first game to the last game, the composure and everything has to be the same, the planning and all those things may change. But how you approach the game has to be the same," Samson said.
The Blasters finished the league stages in the fifth spot in the ISL points table with 10 victories, one draw and nine defeats out of 20 matches. Kerala Blasters FC have managed to make it to the playoffs for two consecutive years now.
Ivan Vukomanovic's side finished their league campaign with three consecutive defeats and now they gear up to take on the arch-rivals Bengaluru FC in their eliminator match who themselves have made a dramatic entry in the playoffs after securing eight consecutive victories in the last eight league matches.