'Freestyle football' bonanza at Mumbai City matches

The freestyle footballers at DY Patil Stadium

The freestyle footballers at DY Patil Stadium

At the inaugural edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), the exciting football is not the only entertainment on offer to thrill the crowds. At Mumbai City FC’s home matches at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, the attendant fans are further treated to an exhibition of ‘freestyle football’ at half-time.

A troupe of freestyle footballers dazzle the crowd with their vast array of tricks and flicks, setting off roars all around the ground as they perform right in front of the stands. The half-time show lasts around ten minutes before the freestylers return to the anonymity of their existence.

Behind this acrobatic display of skills lie years of practice. RK Sahni, who has been a freestyler for four years, told indiansuperleague.com that he practices three hours every day in order to be in top shape and form for his gigs. Sahni was delighted to have had the opportunity to display his skills at an event of this magnitude. “It’s an absolute adrenaline rush!” Sahni exclaimed. “We train for this, the claps and the appreciation.”

Fellow performer Archis Patil has had an even more accomplished career as a freestyler. “I have two world records for freestyling,” Patil said proudly. He has been a freestyle professional for six years and says that it has taken 5-6 hours of training every day to reach the level he has achieved. A Mumbai native, Patil added that although he has performed abroad, the experience of putting on a show in front of his home crowd is beyond compare.

“Performing here at DY Patil, in our own hometown – it’s a different rush altogether,” gushed Patil. When asked to rate the venue compared to others where he had performed, Patil was similarly effusive. “I have to say this is the best ground! Great energy, great adrenalin flow and amazing vibes. This is what a performer wants.”

Manish Nigam had similar sentiments to convey when being asked about his experience at the Mumbai City – Delhi Dynamos game. “I love this ground. I love the DY Patil Stadium, and I love performing in front of my home crowd!” he exclaimed. Although it did not show during his display, Nigam was actually making his debut as a professional freestyler. “This was my first performance, and I loved it!” said an excited Nigam, whose experience was made even more momentous because he is a Chelsea fan and was thrilled to see former Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka in action for his home team on the same day.   

For Nigam’s friend and fellow freestyler Shakib Amiri, it was the presence of Alessandra Del Piero that excited him. When asked if he could pick one player with whom he would like to perform, Amiri picked out the Dynamos’ marquee player, “It would definitely be Del Piero! He’s my favourite, and my brother’s favourite as well!” Amiri went onto express his delight at having performed at the ISL game. “It was amazing! It was a great pleasure performing here in front of thousands of people.”

While the matches are no doubt the main attraction, the ISL also provides opportunities for budding stars in related walks of life to showcase their talents. The Mumbai freestylers will attest to that!

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