Bengaluru vs Kerala Blasters - a unique rivalry born and fostered ahead of time

Footballing rivalries, more often than none, are culmination of multiple facets - history, geographic proximity, cultural nuances between two sets of fans, on-field incidents, amongst various other factors. But ideally, in most cases, they need time to grow, and more importantly, a trigger, most commonly an on-field incident or a close match of immense significance. The Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), too, since its inception, has been the breeding and nurturing ground to several such rivalries, most of which have been fostered through more or less the same set of pre-requisites. The bone of contention between southern rivals Kerala Blasters FC and Bengaluru FC, however, is a unique one.

Despite abiding by many of the conventional tropes mentioned above, the rivalry between Kerala and Bengaluru took root and flourished to epic proportions even before the first-ever kick-off between the two teams. With the two arch-rivals set to script another chapter of the epic tale when the Hero ISL 2019-20 resumes after the international break on November 23, here's a look back at the origin and progression of one of the fastest-escalating rivalries in Indian football.

The pretext

Bengaluru didn't enter the Hero ISL fray until the 2017-18 season, with the Blues plying their trade in the Hero I-League and dominating the scene outside the Hero ISL spectrum. The Blues' players, however, were no stranger to the Hero ISL with key players like Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh making waves while on loan to different Hero ISL sides during Bengaluru's off-season. CK Vineeth and Rino Anto were two such players who were on loan to Kerala from Bengaluru during Hero ISL 2016 and helped the Kochi-based side reach the final. With the Hero ISL 2017-18 approaching, it was announced that the number of teams will be increased to 10 and Bengaluru FC will be one of the two new entrants.

Given the geographical proximity and cultural parallels as well as differences between the two regions, the two teams were always destined to become rivals but the narrative progressed far more rapidly than anticipated. On July 4, 2017, it was announced that Vineeth - a former Bengaluru fan-favourite would be signing permanently with Kerala and later in the month, Anto would end up moving to Kerala as a Round 3 pick in the Hero ISL 2017-18 Player Drafts. The losses were undoubtedly big blows for the Blues' fans and represented huge bragging rights for the Kerala faithful but didn't quite usher in the tipping point, just yet.

The D-Day

With the two sides scheduled to lock horns for the very first time on the Hero ISL stage on December 31, 2017, the inevitable was expected to come to fruition on the final day of the calendar year. However, fans didn't quite have to wait that long for ground zero. On August 23, 2017, Bengaluru were up against North Korean side April 25 SC in the first leg of the AFC Cup Inter-Zone semifinal game at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Watching the match from the stands, along with the Bengaluru fans, were Vineeth and Anto. Delighted with the presence of their former players, there were chants celebrating them at the Kanteerava. However, sections of the crowd also reportedly broke out some anti- Kerala Blasters FC slogans as well, which didn't quite sit well with Kerala's own fan groups.

With still almost four months to go for the first meeting, the fuse had already been lit and the rivalry, including the insult vs banter debate, kept raging on social media, with even Vineeth and Anto having their say at one stage. The intensity never quite dialled down and only kept growing stronger and stronger right till the eve of December 31.

The first clash

The wait finally came to an end on December 31 as the two teams met on the pitch for the very first time at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. It was a tense encounter, both on the pitch and off it, with both teams heading into half-time goalless. Subhasish Roy was having a blinder in the Kerala goal and looked almost unbeatable until a Sandesh Jhingan handball resulted in a Bengaluru FC penalty on the hour mark. Sunil Chhetri stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick to break the deadlock, leaving the boisterous Kochi crowd silent for a change. Kerala had plenty of opportunities to equalise and looked very likely to get something out of the contest until the very end, but in a bid to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents in the final few minutes, the home side ended up conceding two stoppage time goals, courtesy Bengaluru's Venezuelan hitman Miku. Courage Pekuson pulled one back in the dying seconds but Kerala ended up losing the first-ever Southern Derby against Bengaluru by a 3-1 margin.

The rivalry since

Since their first clash, the two teams and their fans have gone to battle three more times, with Bengaluru winning two and the other ending in a draw. As things stand, the numbers and bragging rights are firmly in favour of Bengaluru but in football, as we all know, tides can change very fast.

The numbers, however, don't quite tell the whole story...

So, as far as head-to-head between the two is concerned Bengaluru have won three, with the last clash between the two sides at the Kanteerava ending in a draw. However, the numbers don't quite tell the full story.

Kerala did well to stop Bengaluru's utter domination in the fixture in their last meeting but Kerala fans will be disappointed considering they were 2-0 up at half-time, and were undone late in the match through a Udanta Singh goal in the 69th minute and a Chhetri equaliser on the 85th.

Even in the reverse fixture earlier last season, Kerala were in the game at 1-1 until the 81st minute, but were subjected to a 2-1 defeat after a late Nikola Krcmarevic own goal.

In their second encounter of the 2017-18 season on March 1, 2018, at the Kanteerava, both sides were goalless until the 90th minute with the Blues only managing to clinch the match with two added-time goals from Miku and Udanta.

So, looking back, virtually none of the clashes between the two sides, in essence, have quite been decided until the final 10 minutes of the match, at the very least.

The coming storm…

November 23rd's clash between the two, as always, will have a lot riding on it as fans brace for the fifth on-field chapter of this unique rivalry between two. Who will eventually come out on top? Well, maybe we will have to wait for the final ten minutes for the answer.

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