Sachin Tendulkar and 60,000 crowds: McAllister's Indian journey

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Jamie McAllister (second left) and Sachin Tendulkar commiserate Kerala's players after losing the Indian Super League final
Jamie McAllister (second left) and Sachin Tendulkar commiserate with Kerala's players after losing the Indian Super League final

A few weeks after playing in front of more than 60,000 people in the Indian Super League, Jamie McAllister is back in the UK and set to sample the delights of League Two with Exeter City.

His new surroundings are a far cry from the heat and humidity of the south west of India, where he spent the second half of 2014 playing for Kerala Blasters.

Former Yeovil captain McAllister, 36, was player-coach of Kerala, who were runners-up in the inaugural competition and are co-owned by India cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

"He's got a big passion for football and he wants to try and drive football on and try and make it as big as cricket, if it can be, in India," McAllister told BBC Sport.

"Sachin's a very humble man, he's a nice man," he reminisced on a cold January afternoon at Exeter's Cat and Fiddle training ground.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar is the only cricketer to have scored 100 international centuries

"We met him a few times, he had lunch with us a few times and he did a motivational speech in one of our meetings. He was very hands on with us. It was great just to be around him.

"I'm not a big cricket fan but the Indian lads worshipped him. He was so humble and easy to talk to."

Among the eight competing teams were some of the stars of football's recent past.

Nicolas Anelka, Alessandro Del Piero, Freddie Ljungberg, David Trezeguet, Luis Garcia and Marco Materazzi were among the players who were drawn to the league, to be coached by, among others, Zico and Peter Reid.

"The interest and media coverage that went behind it was incredible," said McAllister.

"The Indian people were superb, while the players were eager and hungry to learn, do well and work hard, so it was a great experience.

Atletico de Kolkata win the inaugural Indian Super League
Ex-Liverpool forward Luis Garcia captained Atletico de Kolkata to the inaugural Indian Super League title
Indian Super League
Teams based in New Delhi, Kerala, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai, Guwahati and GoaEach team allowed one "marquee" foreign signing, but must have at least five Indian players in their team
Based on a franchise system, so there is no promotion or relegationFounded in 2013, its first season was October-December 2014

"You had to have five Indian players in the starting 11 at all times, so there was always a mix between the foreign lads and the Indian boys, and it worked very well.

"They were of a very good standard, the crowds were great and the football was good as well."

To get some idea of how big a draw football was in India, the crowd at McAllister's last game at Yeovil in the Championship in May 2014 was 6,477. For his final game in Kerala, there were a few more than that.

"In the semi-final we had 60,000 in the stadium and 20,000 outside watching it on a big screen," McAllister remembered. "The noise outside with drummers, DJs and fireworks before the game was superb.

"When you left the hotel you had to have security with you, as when you went to some of the big malls you were mobbed by fans wanting autographs. It was just incredible," said McAllister, who has spent most of his club career out of the limelight with clubs such as Bristol City, Aberdeen and Livingston.

McAllister's time on the field in India was somewhat bittersweet.

From Queen of the South to Kerala - Jamie McAllister's football journey
1996-99: Queen of the South2004-06: Hearts2012-14: Yeovil Town
1999-2003: Aberdeen2006-12: Bristol City2014: Kerala Blasters
2003-04: Livingston2012: Preston North End (loan)2015: Exeter City

He suffered an injury early in the campaign and missed a large chunk of the regular season.

He returned to the Blasters side to help them finish fourth in the league, helping them qualify for the end-of-season play-offs, where they played top-ranked Chennaiyin FC in a two-legged semi-final.

Having won 3-0 in the first leg, they went into the away leg as firm favourites.

"A few of our boys had been booked in the first leg and two yellows meant you missed the final," said the former Scotland international.

"There was a lot of stuff in the papers that they were going to come out and kick us, so that if they didn't make the final, some of us wouldn't make it through suspension or injury," continued McAllister, who had been booked in the first leg.

"I went over to take a corner after seven minutes, put the ball on the spot, and as I stepped back the ball rolled off the line into a little divot. I said to the linesman: 'Can I put it back?'

"I went to put it back and the ref ran over and booked me for wasting time, so that was my second yellow."

Jamie McAllister meets the stars of the Indian Super League
Jamie McAllister with some of the stars of the Indian Super League. Clockwise from top left: Alessandro Nesta, Robert Pires, Alessandro Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka

It meant he missed the final, and to compound matters he received a second yellow 20 minutes later for a sliding challenge on Bernard Mendy.

Down to 10 men, Chennaiyin pulled the three goals back and took the game into extra-time, only for McAllister's former Bristol City team-mate Stephen Pearson to hit a 113th-minute winner for Kerala.

The Blasters were defeated in the final in Mumbai by Atletico de Kolkata, losing to a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time with McAllister watching on from the stands.

"It was a great learning experience," said McAllister. "I would love to go back if I got the opportunity, although my main focus now is Exeter and wanting to do well here."

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