ISL season 5 kicked off in some style and so has the football rivalries. If the Salt Lake hosted Kerala Blasters, it is Sree Kanteerava Stadium and the Bengaluru FC who had the privilege of hosting last year’s champions Chennaiyin FC. This was the match after which Nita Ambani should have come up to the ‘new audience’ and shout #FanBannaPadega and expect not to be shouted back or shrugged off. This was the match which would’ve prompted to get everyone towards the stadium to watch Indian football. This surely had every element of an impending blockbuster season.
The AIFF, just by having this fixture in the opening fixture showed that it has no chill in taking ISL to greater heights. Last year’s champions and runners-up battling it out against each other in the opening weekend. Last year’s table toppers and 2nd placed team taking on each other in the opening weekend. This is the organizers’ ‘THIS IS SPARTA (ISL)’ moment. These two teams obviously have one of the most prominent football rivalries.
To get you more excited, let’s give a little backdrop on the battles that took place last season. On December 12, Chennayin FC traveled to Bengaluru to take on them. The debutants were well accustomed to ISL by then and dismantling anyone who came their way. BFC at their fortress was far too good.
Chennaiyin FC made the trip and found themselves in the front foot in the early minutes of the fixture. The game witnessed more drama, theatrics, histrionics, and rough tackles than football from the visitors. In the 85th minute, Sunil Chhetri pulled one back. There was more drama, more poor refereeing and in the 88th minute, Dhanpal Ganesh scored the winner for Chennaiyin FC much to the dismay of Bengaluru FC fans. The first of the two games ended with Chennaiyin bagging all the three points away from home.
BFC then traveled to Marina Arena with vengeance in mind. A similar script followed. BFC took the lead in early minutes. What followed a series of rough tackles, theatrics and a half-time scuffle between the players. Oh, and also the home team had drawn square thanks to Fernandes’ header in the 33rd minute. Chennaiyin FC came to all guns blazing in the second half. A Jeje Lalpekhua penalty was saved by Gurpreet before BFC managed to score 2 more goals and end the match 3-1 in their favor.
Both the teams had won away against each other. The teams took an early lead. Both the teams won after being 1-1. Oh and both of the fixtures saw a lot of drama. Histrionics which would put even Martin Scorcesse to shame.
The Third Fixture
The third fixture played between them was a big one. Bengaluru FC, in their debut season, managed to reach the finals and were facing the then 1-time champion. A southern derby at the home of one of the teams for a final. ISL 4 couldn’t have been scripted any better. The oh-so-normal script followed. Again, Bengaluru got an early lead.
Chennaiyin pulled one back in the first half and added two more to make it 3-1 in the normal passage of time and were in touching distance of the trophy. Mailson Alves, who scored the 3rd goal came in touching distance of the West Block only to be held back by the team owner Abhishek Bachchan. The scoreline read BFC 2- 3 Chennaiyin FC. Chennaiyin FC has crowned the champions for the second time.
As cliche as it may sound, this is, truly, the beginning of a new era of southern rivalry. A rivalry where players sweat out it out on the field to give their fans everything that they crave for, a football rivalry. John Gregory and Albert Roca were two ‘different yet similar in their demeanor’ coaches. Gregory, since he has come in has stressed the importance of Indian players and has one of the units at disposal.
Roca, too, gave a platform for youngsters like Subashish Bose, Nishu Kumar, Semboi Haokip, Boithang Haokip and a host of others. Everything rests on his longtime deputy Carles Cuadrat to carry off from where Roca left. He doesn’t have to build a new base to suit his style. He doesn’t have to go through the transition phase that every team goes through when a new manager takes over.
Gregory and Cuadrat have shown that even in a league where everything is down to the knockout matches and eventually the finals, their team can prevail. For they know, fortune has always favored the ones who have played good football.
West Block Blues and Supermachans
Two sets of fans who’ll get behind their team in any stadium, against any opposition, and in any circumstances. Bengaluru FC had their first loss of the last season against Chennaiyin in Kanteerava on a Sunday. They took on Jamshedpur 3 days later in a midweek fixture. West Block Blues were in their voice again.
Chennaiyin FC, too, suffered defeat at the hands of Bengaluru in Marina Arena. Come the big final somewhere in mid-March, they traveled in huge numbers and ultimately saw their teams lift the trophy.
The banter is undeniable among the clubs, fans on social media. However, it has always been clean banter among them mocking the other clubs anthem or trolling them over the loss in a pre-season fixture. The banter has never been distasteful like the other southern club who have programmed their social media accounts to send out ‘haha’ reacts on Facebook every time BFC or Chennaiyin post something.
BFC and Chennaiyin FC are owned by mainly by one of the biggest business conglomerates and a Bollywood superstar & businesswoman respectively. That doesn’t make it any less of a team. JSW has been the torchbearer for athletics in India.
One look at Abhishek Bachchan’s Instagram or social media accounts will tell you about his passion for football. He has been a Chelsea fan for long and can be often spotted in the football exhibition matches in Mumbai. Rarely does he miss a Chennaiyin FC match be it in Guwahati or in Marina Arena? These two have been the role model for an Indian football club.
Their passion is unadulterated. When Mailson Alves scored the 3rd goal in the ISL final of season 4, he ran towards the West Block as if to gesture that Chennaiyin FC was running away with the trophy. Abhishek Bachchan, in a moment of great awareness, sportsmanship and exhilaration went to Alves and piggybacked him for a celebration as if to indicate they had won the title (Well, they actually had).
On September 30th, Bengaluru FC had their cute little revenge when they defeated Chennaiyin 1-0 at home. The Chennai-team will then be hoping for their first win at home against BFC. Records don’t mean anything in a rivalry. There are more than 3 points at stake every time these two battle it out. There is, simply, more than what meets the eye. This is, after all, a cute little rivalry perennially catalyzing the Indian Super League.
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