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Official Review by Hemant Dua, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
October 21, 2013 could very well go down as a momentous date in the history of Indian football. It was on this day that three biggies in Reliance Industries Limited, IMG Worldwide and Star India came together to launch the Hero Indian Super League. This idea of a professional league was conceived with the primary objective of setting into motion a footballing revolution in the country.
It is the first major coming-together of internationally-renowned footballers with the best that India has to offer. The desired consequence is the transformation of India into a major global power in the sport, and the plan is to achieve this by having the ISL serve as a suitable platform for developing the next generation of talent.
Given how new a concept it is, we’re presently witnessing the very first edition of the ISL. Since its inception, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has served as the home patch of capital outfit Delhi Dynamos. The Dynamos are one of eight sides in the league, which follows a franchise system as opposed to one of promotion and relegation.
In stark contrast to its current tenants, JLN Stadium has a long and rich history. It is one of the country’s few FIFA-approved football arenas. Alongside Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata, it has been the Indian National team’s home turf for the last few years, and is likely to hold that status for the foreseeable future.
Memorably, this venue hosted Indian legend Baichung Bhutia’s farewell game in 2012, a friendly between India and German giants, Bayern Munich.
It has also hosted several notable events in the domain of athletics, including the 1982 Asian Games and the 1989 Asian Championships in Athletics. More recently, it has served as the flagship venue of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
Two One-Day International cricket matches have been played at JLN. In 1984, it was India and Australia who squared off against each other here. Seven years later, South Africa locked horns with India at JLN. The 60,000 seater is unlikely to ever be utilized for cricketing purposes again, though.
Doing justice to the description “multi-purpose stadium,” JLN has also been used for musical concerts. As part of Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! benefit concert here in 1988, renowned musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Tracy Chapman graced the arena with their presence.
In December 1993, though, less fortuitously, music enthusiasts in the capital were left to wince. A Michael Jackson concert, as a segment of his Dangerous World Tour, was due to take place at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, but was cancelled as a result of the late pop icon’s deteriorating health.
I digress. Coming back to football matters, the Delhi Dynamos have now played their home games for the regular season at this venue. Their record at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium doesn’t make for spectacular reading, as they’ve emerged victorious just twice over that run of their first seven fixtures. Their other five matches in their own backyard have yielded three draws and two losses.
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Those who hold tickets of lower denomination have little choice here, really. This has, in my experience, become a recurrent theme with Indian sports venues.
Vegetable patties and potato wafers are available at considerably inflated prices (roughly Rs. 40 and Rs. 50 respectively), and similar observations can be made with regards to aerated drinks.
In addition, one isn't permitted to carry food and drinks from outside into the venue.
For holders of expensive tickets, though, it's an entirely different story. Should you choose to purchase, say, a Rs. 3,000 pass, you will gain access to a buffet that offers a wide selection of Indian and continental dishes. There are also several beverage options available for you to pick from.
Each and every one of the seats in the stadium provides a top notch view of the field of play. On the downside, no spectator stand brings you particularly close to the proceedings on the pitch, and that is down to the design of the stadium. The athletics track separates the seating area from the pitch.
The ISL runs between October and December, and the weather in Delhi is good at this time of the year. The evenings are cool and pleasant, which is something you can't expect of summer evenings in the capital. In some ways, one could argue that weather is quite suitable for the foreign footballers, many of whom are from Europe and more at ease when the temperature is in the region of 10-15 degrees Celsius (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit).
The atmosphere inside the arena for the first home game of the 2014 was absolutely electrifying. I would attribute this to the considerable turnout on the day. Over the past few years, there's been a steady rise in attendance at football matches played inside Nehru Stadium.
Situated on Lodhi Road in South Delhi, JLN is certainly on the more posh side of town. Khan Market, a shopping street with some exquisite restaurants for wining and dining, is close at hand. Khan Chacha, the Big Chill Café, Smoke House Deli, Out Of The Box and Route 04 should certainly be on a visitor's to-do list.
Yellow Brick Road at Taj Vivanta, located in Sujan Singh Park isn't far off either, and is perhaps a good place to visit for those with a refined palate.
India Habitat Centre, a multipurpose complex, is roughly five minutes away from the stadium by road, and regularly hosts art exhibitions, theatre, musical gigs and cultural events.
While we're on the subject of cultural institutions, India International Centre and India Islamic Cultural Centre are also just around the corner.
History buffs may be intereste in visiting Lodhi Gardens, which holds the tomb of Sikander Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi between 1489 A.D. and 1517 A.D.
To put it in a nutshell, there is plenty in the immediate vicinity of JLN to keep you occupied before or after a game.
It is hard to assess the authenticity of the Delhi fans just yet, given that the ISL is such a fresh concept. It takes much longer than a couple of months for people to develop a deep-rooted loyalty to a club and to grow strongly attached to its players.
To look at the bigger picture, India as a country is warming up to football. Having said that, the crowd in most sections of the stadium is a mix of ardent followers of the game and people with little genuine interest.
On the bright side, it is always noisy inside the stadium, and the turnout has been impressive on most occasions. Something I found quite intriguing was how quickly fans of the Dynamos took to the Mexican Wave.
One name even the less knowledgeable fans didn't take long to familiarise themselves with was that of Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero. Not only is he the capital side's marquee player, he is by far the most recognizable face in the Dynamos' squad. It should be noted, though, that the veteran footballer has so far failed to light up the ISL in the way he once used to light up the Italian Serie A with extraordinary vision and dead-ball expertise.
Two other players that the fans have instantly taken to are Hans Mulder and Gustavo dos Santos; the former for his industry and the way he dictates the flow of games from midfield, and the latter for his attacking verve, flair and dribbling skill.
The metro rail station that is closest to JLN Stadium is in fact its namesake on the Violet Line of the Delhi Metro. Being a fairly frequent user of the same, I would say it's a remarkably convenient and economical mode of transport that helps beat the traffic and save time. The stadium is hardly a five minute walk from the station.
It should be noted that the train stop is closest to the access gates numbered 13, 14 and 15.
There is one problem you are likely to encounter with the Delhi Metro. It is known to get crowded and congested rather often, particularly for commuters leaving JLN after a match draws to a close. Just as a word of advice - in a one-way contest where one team finds itself in a practically unassailable lead, you should consider departing 15-20 minutes before the final whistle. If you are adamant to stay for the whole game, then take your time and let the crowds disperse if you're planning on using the Metro.
For those who wish to drive down to the venue, it might be wise to note that there is parking for private vehicles at Sunheri Pullah and Bara Pullah Cluster Bus Depots. There are shuttle services available at each of the aforementioned.
Entry into the venue isn't time consuming, as there's adequate personnel in place at the gates to ensure a smooth passage of flow.
Tickets of the lowest denomination are available for just Rs. 200, which converts to under $3.50 USD, going by the Rupee-USD exchange rate as of December 2014. One huge positive is that no matter where you're seated, you get a spectacular view of the pitch and the action as it unravels before you. If you're there primarily for the atmosphere and for the footballing side of things, the cheap tickets will do you just fine and you should have a great time.
For those who intend to get more out of their viewing experience and are willing to splash the cash, it might not be a bad idea to buy tickets valued in the region of Rs. 3,000. Not only will that provide you with superior food and drink alternatives, it will also ensure you have a more comfortable viewing experience, with its better and more organized seating arrangement.
One extra point for the renewed emphasis on football in India. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is a great place to see the renaissance of the beautiful game.
Another extra point for the long history of both athletic and musical events that have taken place in this venue over the past 30+ years.
Finally, an extra point for the affordability of seeing a Dynamos game at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
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Middle Lane, Khan Market
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