Our Chennai correspondent Koushik Venkatesh makes the short trip to the Garden City with a vociferous set of Marina Machans fans.
Matchday! Read the text on my phone when the alarm had gone off at 6 A.M. on the 17th of March, the day of reckoning for the fans of the two best clubs in the country. The day of the Indian Super League final had finally arrived and fortunately enough, my favourite club had made it too. Chennaiyin FC had always been one of the favourites to go all the way, but standing in front of us was a mighty strong team in Bengaluru FC.
Before the emotions kicked in, I was fully aware of what BFC could do to Chennaiyin on their day and it was quite evident they were the best team in the league because when the regular season finished, they were top and were 8 points clear of the 2nd placed team.
However, going into the match, I knew we had a chance to nick it and with the belief that the man at the helm, John Gregory had a plan in mind, I set off for Bengaluru with one of the best fan clubs that the ISL has seen, B Stand Blues (BSB). It was quite tribal from the get-go and it almost felt like we were going to war. There began my 6-hour journey to Bengaluru.
Chennaiyin travelling fans in Kanteerava stadium for the ISL final
For those who don’t know them already, here’s a quick peek into what the B-Stand Blues are all about. The B Stand Blues were extremely organised. They had a core team that worked on the chants and the core team were evenly spread out through the crowds. To help with the uniformity, the chant started from the first row and the people in the middle would pick it up and then it came up to the ones at the very end.
They’d practice their chants when they travelled and made sure that we knew what to sing when the time came. Watching from the Media gantry, on every single matchday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, these people would come in 100’s to support the team.
The kickoff time never mattered for this passionate bunch. They’d chant before the match when the players were out to train, they’d chant for the entirety of the game and whether the team won, lost, or drawn, they’d still give it their all for the Men in blue. At the end of the day, only one thing mattered to them AND and that was to make the players feel that the fans are with them every step of the way.
The atmosphere during the semi-final second leg at the Marina Arena this season was one of the best in the league. Over 300 members gathered at the B Stand level 1 an hour before kickoff. The crowd sang their hearts out for the players all game and the passion of these fans seemed to rub off on the players when they absolutely hammered FC Goa 3-0.
The B Stand Blues were also responsible for producing one of the best banners in the ISL. Who could forget the Homer Simpson banner with the “vada (Indian Fritters)” on the chest pocket? Be it creating a hostile atmosphere for the opponents, be it banter or be it showering love on all their players, they did it all.
Post-match celebration outside of the stadium
At around 2 P.M, I had reached Bengaluru and finished my lunch which wasn’t quite to my liking thanks to the sweet “sambhar” (sambhar is not meant to be sweet, Bengaluru) and quickly joined the B Stand Blues who were gathering the crowds to begin their march towards the stadium. Imagine 300+ people walking together with flags, scarves, flares, and chanting for their club! If this isn’t something that you have experienced as a fan then you need to do it ASAP.
We walk into the stadium 90 minutes prior to kickoff and things are already kicking off in the East Upper-A. The East Block Blues were packing and an off-the-field battle was already brewing. If there was one thing that English Football fans are famous for (other than booking their tickets back home before the knockout stages) it was for their spontaneousness in their chants and the BSB had loads of it.
The ISL trophy was brought out for display and the East Block Blues were chanting, “That’s our trophy” repeatedly, staring right at us. We spent little to no time in replying to them “In your dreams”. It was a funny exchange as the opposing fans were shutdown and ended up applauding our wit.
8 P.M, the referee blows the whistle signalling the start of the ISL final. We were in full voice chanting “here we go Chennai, here we go!” Five minutes into the match and we were all quite shaken as to how much pressure Bengaluru were piling on Chennaiyin. Jerry Lalrinzuala, who was easily one of the top 5 players for Chennaiyin, stuck out like a sore thumb against Udanta Singh in the early minutes and much to our horror, nine minutes into the match, a beautiful ball in from Miku, released Udanta and brought him away from Jerry.
A slightly deflected cross landed perfectly for the captain, Sunil Chhetri to head the ball in to put the hosts one up. Neither did the team nor did we put our heads down. We were in full voice once again chanting for the men who wore their hearts on their sleeves on that night.
The players were all slowly settling down and Jerry looked like the player we’ve known him to be all season and finally, the moment came. A corner lifted in by Gregory Nelson and stylishly picked out of the air by the Brazilian ace, Mailson Alves. Being a short guy, I could hardly see over the crowd but I caught a glimpse of the ball hitting the upright and going into the net.
That was enough for me and we belted out one of my personal favourites from the BSB, “We’ve got Alves, Mailson Alves, I just don’t think you understand, he’s John Gregory’s man, he’s better than Jhingan, we’ve got Mailson Alves”. Was I disappointed I didn’t get to see the goal? A little bit, yes. but thanks to the force above, Mailson did it again in a similar fashion and this time the cross was from the right so I managed to watch it all unfold as I moved back to the last row for a better view. The half-time score read 1-2 to Chennaiyin and we knew we were in for something special.
Campeones – Chennaiyin FC
We bought some water from the vendors and recharged our voices for a huge second half and we were ready to roar again. Great chances came and went for both teams and a goal was ruled offside for Bengaluru FC. Everything seemed to be working out the way we wanted and just like that in the 67th minute, it was 1-3 to Chennaiyin thanks to the breathtaking skills of Raphael Augusto, who curled it into the bottom right corner.
Two goals up with 20 minutes to go and with an attack like Bengaluru’s, I wouldn’t be content with a 3-goal lead too. Karanjit Singh though! What a player he’s turned out to be this season. I used to chuckle every time the BSB chanted “He saves when he wants, he saves when he wants, Karanjit Singh, he saves when he wants” but it’s almost like he’s slapped me across the face with his performances this season.
Saving Chhetri’s header in the 74th minute was key to this victory. The ball came at Karanjit fast and it was destined for the top corner. but he tipped it over the bar. Let’s not forget Chhetri’s blunder. Eight yards from goal with the goalkeeper scrambling to get back into position, he skied it and fell to the ground in the 87th minute. Showing no mercy towards anyone, we mocked him for the miss by thanking him, “Thank you Chhetri, *clap clap clap*”.
The gods were smiling down on us that night. Tackles like the one Inigo Calderon attempted have been given as a penalty before in this season. The offside goal might not have been flagged but none of that mattered anymore because the final whistle went and we were crowned Champions of ISL 2018.
On-field reaction from players just after the full-time whistle
The players came to us led by Dhanpal Ganesh who has been the poster boy of Chennaiyin this season and someone who has been very close to the hearts of the BSB. We did not leave one player out and sang our hearts out for every single player that made history that night. John Gregory walked over and rightfully so, we chanted, “King in the south” for the first ever Englishman to lift the ISL trophy. Even after tiring my lungs out after constantly screaming, I still had a lot of energy left.
The atmosphere and the feeling of winning it added to it. People who were strangers to me a couple of hours before ago were now family and it was as if our purpose had been fulfilled. We were there in the stadium for another hour still chanting for the players that made all of this possible. We even took it to the roads where we did our rendition of the famous “Kolo Toure and Yaya Toure” chant with Anirudh Thapa and Dhana substituted in.
The B-Stand Blues are a breath of fresh air in the ever-growing phase of Indian football and when the founding members of this group look back at it 10 years down the line, they’d be mighty proud of what they had started.
As for me, it was lights out as I had to board a train the next morning at 6 A.M to head back to “My hometown club, My one true love!, Chennaiyin FC…” Yeah, I’ll stop.