Blasters: Kerala’s pride and passion

Kerala’s love for football spans centuries and needs no introduction. Whether it’s an international match or the hugely-popular Sevens, the spirit of football comes alive whenever a ball is kicked around.

Since the days of the British soldiers and missionaries, football has remained popular in this part of the world, even ahead of national craze cricket. The state has won honours, clubs have made a name for themselves and footballers became household names. But until 2014 when Kerala Blasters FC took birth, for a long time there was a pause. Several clubs took shape in between, but nobody seemed to survive.

In the five years since its inception, Kerala Blasters FC have grown from strength to strength. They are now one of Asia's more widely supported football clubs. With over 1 million followers each on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Blasters boast an online army of supporters that rivals many top football clubs. They are the only South Asian side ranked in the top 100 of most digitally-followed football club in the world.

Blasters are ranked tenth in Asia and globally with 4.3 million aggregate digital followers, placed above famous clubs like Los Angeles Galaxy (4.1 million), Celtic FC (3.1 million) and AFC Champions League winners Kashima Antlers (0.5 million).

Their ‘support’ for the home team at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi, cannot be ignored either. From 60,000 in the first two years – safety regulations capped the stadium capacity in 2017 -- to 40,000 later, Kerala’s support has been the envy of all rival teams in the Hero Indian Super League.

“The fans are an extra player behind the team who makes it difficult for other teams to come and play in Kochi,” coach Eelco Schattorie said when he chose to make the switch from NorthEast United FC to Kerala Blasters.

What the club has lacked is the Hero ISL trophy. They came close, twice, losing to ATK on both occasions in the final (2014 and 2016). For the last two seasons, they have failed to reach the play-offs. While recent results have been disappointing, the addition of Schattorie as head coach and acquisition of several impressive players to their roster have provided for hope.

"Hero ISL brought new football revolution to India, and with innovative fans engagement made fans get closer to team. Kerala diaspora along with travelling fans attending away matches in huge number makes it unique," Manjappada's core committee member Somu Joseph said.

Manjappada undertakes a plethora of social activities in addition to an incredible number of matchday activities. They are one of the loudest sets of fans, whether it is at home or away.

At the stadiums, the fan presence cannot be missed. Whether home or away, the support is unmatched and unwavering, setting the club apart. Even when Kerala travelled to the UAE for a pre-season friendly ahead of the sixth season, thousands of UAE-based Keralites flocked to the stadium, creating the now famous ‘Sea of Yellow’.

For Malayalis around the world, this is a football club they can proudly call their own.

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