Will it be ‘home sweet home’ for Odisha FC?

Shubham Sarangi is excited. His team, Odisha FC, have not exactly fired in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20, having picked up nine points from nine matches till date, but at the half-way stage, there is plenty to look forward to.

One of the two new entrants to the Hero ISL this season, Odisha are finally coming home. With football quickly rising in popularity in Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s debut could not have come at a more opportune time and nobody knows it better than Sarangi, who was born in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) and brought up in Delhi. His parents are from Odisha.

“I have never stayed in Odisha but that is where my roots are from. I am looking forward to play in the state. A lot of local people have come up and told me that they want to see me in the stadium and they want to back me. In the past four to five years, the Odisha government has been putting in a lot of effort in bringing a sporting culture in the state, which is a good thing. That motivates the entire team,” said Sarangi.

The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar has witnessed good support for games hosted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in recent years. In the last two years, it has been home to AIFF's developmental side Indian Arrows, hosted the 2019 Women's Gold Cup and the Hero Indian Women's League, as well as the Hero Super Cup.

Like fellow Hero ISL club Jamshedpur FC, Odisha are based out of a small town, rather than a big city. Playing football in a closely-knit community can bring people together to enjoy the game, attracting more crowd into the stadium and as a result, achieving bigger in-stadia support.

This is evident in how Jamshedpur's support has grown since they made their debut just two seasons back. Jamshedpur have the maximum percentage of attendees for their home matches for the last two seasons and rarely have empty seats.

Football unites people and the talent is there, just waiting to be spotted in several regions of the country. The entry of a new club into the football scene could encourage more people to be involved in the sport, be it talented young kids or passionate adults. And in this, Odisha FC could set a fine example.

In the past, the state has produced several footballers, from former Mohun Bagan player Rajendra Prasad Singh to more recently, youngsters like Rakesh Oram and Bekey Oram. Who knows, sooner rather than later, more players from the region will grab India’s attention.

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