Rekindling memories of a glorious past

Former ITI and HAL players before their clash at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Saturday. DH photo

The landscape of Bangalore football has changed over the last decade. Bengaluru FC has emerged as current flag-bearer with their professional set-up and instant success. The current generation takes pride in confessing their love for European clubs.

But, ask any football fan with roots in the city what the big game meant, they would say "HAL vs ITI". For many, the clash between Green vs Blue was the must-see derby and probably their version of "East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan".

The Bangalore Football Stadium would be packed when HAL collided with ITI, firecrackers would explode when a goal was scored, swear words in Kannada and Tamil would bombard the players of the team that conceded it, the atmosphere simply electrifying.

Denied that joy for nearly two decades following the demise of these two forces, fans flocked the Bangalore Football Stadium on Saturday evening when former players of HAL and ITI decided to take on each other in 'Tussle of the Titans' exhibition clash, organised by Bengaluru FC.

They were a lot more subdued with the noise levels hardly troubling the decibel metre but they lapped up every bit of the action and even stayed back after the game to applaud the players who once gave them joy and heartbreak in varying measures.

"It's unbelievable," said Saravanan, who played for ITI on Saturday but wore the jerseys of both teams during his heydays. "When I was growing up, I hardly missed an HAL vs ITI game. That was the biggest thing for us. In fact, watching some of the legends play in those games is what inspired me to take up football. It's fantastic to be wearing the colours of ITI again."

Striker RC Prakash, who showed his predatorial skills are still intact scoring both the goals in the 2-0 win for ITI, felt this game would help the current generation get an understanding of the bygone era. "I've played for East Bengal and although their rivalry with Bagan is incomparable to any other clash in India, for us Bangaloreans, ITI vs HAL was massive. I'm thrilled to be a part of it. Young boys in my locality don't understand what HAL vs ITI means. Hopefully, this game will educate them."

For HAL's Xavier Vijaykumar, this meant playing football with old friends. "When I got the news, I immediately pulled out all the newspaper clippings. I immediately went on a nostalgic trip. The feeling is amazing."

And indeed it was for all who witnessed the game on a balmy winter evening.

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