CHENNAI: It was 4pm on Tuesday when Rajesh Krishnan and four of his friends reached Sydenhams Road. And the sight that greeted them was one of cheerful pandemonium. Crowds in blue t-shirts, sporting painted faces and waving what looked like thousands of flags, had turned one whole lane of the road into a blue clad fiefdom — and it stayed like that for the next two hours.
If anything can show that football, a sport that is considered a religion in the rest of the world, has finally gained a foothold in the city, it is the following that the ISL has gained. The crowds which turned up for the final league match of ChennaiyinFC against the Delhi Dynamos was the largest, despite the fact that the match kicked off at 4.30 pm on a weekday.
“We knew this would be a problem. We wanted to get here at 3 pm, but one of my friends couldn’t get off work soon enough,” said Rajesh, while glaring at his friend. The man didn’t acknowledge it though; he was busy getting his face painted in Chennai’s colours. The other two were haggling with a vendor for headbands and flags. Rajesh’s ire was well-directed because most of the fans that were gaining entry into the stadium were the ones who had showed up at 3.30 pm.
“We took a day off from school,” said 14-year-old Srikanth S with a grin. His friends, all in blue and one with a multi-coloured wig, were too excited to pay much notice to this reporter. “I can’t wait to see Chennai trounce Delhi,” one of them told his friend. “I hope Elano plays,” he added.
The fact that someone like Elano Blumer, while a great player in his own right, has become close to one of the most talked about names in the city, is obvious.
A year ago, many among the thousands waiting in line to see him and rest of Chennai’s boys play, had no clue who he was.
“I didn’t know most Chennai’s players. Now, I’m rooting for all of them. They are awesome,” gushed Preethi Shah, another fan.
And, why not? The Chennai team was leading the table when the match kicked off and fans couldn’t wait to see the team hand the hat in to the Delhi Dynamos.
The ISL has also made one other section of the populace very happy — vendors. Hundreds of them believe that the ISL has brought another ready source of income for them.
“Every match that has happened here has been good for our business. When the ISL first started, there were only seven other vendors including me who plied the street. Now, there are many more,” pointed out Vasanth. “There have just been too many people coming to matches for us to ignore. It is good money,” he concluded.
While the match ended in a 2-2 tie and the thousands that roared their war cries for Chennaiyin FC were a little disappointed at the result of the match, they were still happy to have watched a riveting display of tenacity that managed to keep Delhi’s hopes for a semifinal berth alive. Definitely a good sign for football in the country