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Revisiting One Dramatic Night at Kanteerava Stadium

Kerala Blasters will be reminded of the walkout incident on every visit to Kanteerava. We reflect on that famous, or infamous night, an unforeseen event in league history.

Moinak Banerjee
Last updated: 03.03.2024
Kerala Blasters Walk out

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Almost a year ago on 3rd March 2023, something happened in the ISL playoff tie between Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters at Kanteerava Stadium that not only rocked Indian football but also got the world talking. A normal rivalry got extreme and the outcome was so severe that even the case landed in the international court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport or CAS in Switzerland. As Kerala Blasters make the trip to Bengaluru FC for another crucial tie in 2024, we reflect on that famous, or infamous night, an unforeseen event in league history. 

The Incident

The two Southern Indian clubs were building up a rivalry in ISL but it went into a different magnitude after events on that night. Bengaluru FC welcomed Kerala Blasters for a single-legged eliminator match of the playoffs with the winner going to face Shield winners Mumbai City in the semi-finals. As expected, the tie was a nervy affair and cagey for a reason with nothing to separate the sides in 90 minutes. Extra time commenced and here was where the match took an abnormal turn. 


Bengaluru FC were awarded a free-kick close to the penalty area in the 96th minute. Captain Sunil Chhetri stepped up to take it and while the goalkeeper was adjusting his wall unprepared, he took the free-kick which found the target. Referee Crystal John did not blow the whistle to initiate the free-kick but he let the goal stand, which is not often seen, to the fury of the visiting side. Players of Kerala Blasters protested the decision and later coach Ivan Vukomanovic joined in the argument. However, the official maintained their stance on the decision. 

Remarkably, Vukomanovic then gestured for his players to come off the pitch and led them back into the dressing room. Everyone in Kanteerava and the viewers of the game afar were in disbelief at such a drastic decision of the referee’s decision. Blasters abandoned the game completely and Bengaluru FC were given the walkover victory. However, the outcome of the incident was more than the joy of the home support moving into the next round. 

Abuses, Shutdown and Fine

Criticism of the decision of the referee or Kerala Blasters leaving the pitch midway in the match or both was flooded on social media in the immediate aftermath of the walkout. Not every person fell into these categories as there was a large section, understandably linked with Kerala Blasters, who sympathized with Ivan Vukomanovic. However, another disturbing group also stuck up its ugly head in throwing abuses on the platforms and also making personal attacks on referee Crystal John and Sunil Chhetri with his family also becoming a victim. It went so far that the family member personally had to come up and call down the abusers.            

Naturally, a walkout midway from a game in a professional league that too in the top flight of the country would not have gone unpunished. The reason behind initiating the action was also scrutinized. In the end, the All India Football Federation or AIFF found out that Crystal John had worked by the law of the game in awarding the disputed goal and rejected Kerala Blasters' protest filed to the board. The disciplinary committee charged the club a 4 crore fine and the coach with a fine of Rupees Five lakh along with a 10-match ban from the touchline.

Even after making a public apology, Kerala Blasters held on to the case by moving to CAS after their appeal of reducing the fine or escaping it completely was rejected by AIFF. The ramifications of the punishment though were suffered by a different group of footballers of the same unit.

The Tuskers decided to shut down their women’s team, which started only in 2022, temporarily citing financial troubles to run it due to the fines imposed. The move brought widespread criticism even from international stars of the game.

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