This much is a given after Chennaiyin FC’s first ‘home’ game, against Kerala Blasters, in the Indian Super League on Tuesday: never in the recent past has football been received with such hysteria in the city. Yet, none of this would sound like an exaggeration if you happened to be at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium or anywhere in its vicinity on Deepavali eve.
Further ramping up the proceedings was the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, the co-owner of Kerala Blasters, Abhishek Bachchan, his Chennaiyin FC counterpart, Amitabh Bachchan, and Rajnikanth. The giant-screen constantly captured the three smiling and waving to the fans. For good measure, Amitabh and Abhishek did a lap of honour at half-time and also took a few penalty-kicks.
The ensuing delirium in the stands was a rather appropriately joyful accompaniment to the on-field action. A couple of hours before Chennai’s first date with a premier football competition kicked off, The Hindu caught up with Abhishek. On the team’s logo ‘duradrishti’, the actor proudly proclaims it was his idea. “It looks good, no? People are trying to become international and forgetting what we have,” he tells The Hindu .
The 38-year-old says he is excited at the prospect of setting up a fan base in a city that’s “not traditionally a football stronghold.” “There have been some great Tamilian footballers who have played for India. We brought football in here and we are sold out for the first-ever game.” He said that M.S. Dhoni coming on board as co-owner was a value-addition. “I have known Mahi for several years and he was a State-level goalkeeper. Mahi is very passionate about football.” Sure enough, there were full-throated cries of ‘Dhoni’ and ‘CSK’ in the audience. But, for once, the rapturous cries of ‘CFC, CFC’ put them in the shade as the home team emerged triumphant.