As Bengaluru FC square off against Chennaiyin FC at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday, two sets of fans gear up to produce their loudest cheers off the pitch.
The West Block Blues are known as one of the stand-out fan groups in Indian football, with the Fortress, as the Kanteerava is also known, witnessing record crowds this season. The WBB have come to be associated with their large banners, vociferous chants and their huge numbers.
Giving them stiff competition and growing into a serious rival force, are the B Stand Blues. Chennaiyin’s main fan base travel to Bengaluru on Saturday night, in anticipation of a repeat of the 2-1 victory that they had earned over their rivals earlier in the league stage.
Prior to the ISL final, The Field caught up with both sets of fans.
Balaji Rajkumar was playing football for Trinity Football Club in Chennai, before the inception of Chennaiyin FC. The MBA graduate and a core member of the B Stand Blues feels that with the entry of Chennaiyin though, an organic fan base has helped grow the game in the city.
Move over, CSK
“With the entry of Chennaiyin FC, people have been taking up to football in Chennai,” he said. “North Madras has always been a hot bed for football and Chennaiyin’s entry has revitalised the sport not only there, but across the city and state. You see kids going around kicking a ball, with Chennaiyin jerseys these days rather than sporting a Chennai Super Kings jersey and playing cricket.
“The kids look up to players like Jeje [Lalpekhlua], [Dhanpal] Ganesh, [Raphael] Augusto, [Bernard] Mendy and [Stiven] Mendoza and are yearning to get to this sport. The emergence of the club along with Chennai City FC has helped aspiring professionals to continue playing to earn a chance at the top league, which is in-turn improving the base of the sport if the city. To be honest Indian Bank, being an institutional side, the affiliation wasn’t wide spread,” he added.
Vijay Bharadwaj, who is studying to become a chartered accountant and is an active member of the WBB, appreciates the efforts that the BSB have put in: “It’s not easy to bring in a chanting culture to a city and they’re going about it in a pretty organic banner I’d say. And let’s not forget the banners. Props to them over the Homer Simpson banner. Down-right hilarious.”
Syed Hassan, a second-year college student and a BSB member, also had words of praise for the WBB: “They know how to take banter. At the last game where we won 2-1, we were chanting about [Sunil] Chhetri but they took it in the right spirit. Those guys know how to take it and dish it out too.”
Balaji and Hassan are part of the 400-strong group which is travelling to Bengaluru for the final to cheer Chennaiyin on. “The name B Stand Blues was definitely inspired from the West Block Blues,” said Balaji. “They brought about a change in fan culture to a sport that hardly sees fans outside the Kolkata, Kerala or Goa region.”
Varsha Rajsekhar and the WBB crew have been making a giant-sized banner to be displayed in the stadium. “We’ve barely slept since last night,” she said. “We’re awfully excited. We’ve been working hard and up since 6 am, making this banner.”
Known for her artwork which has been modelled on and distributed to many BFC players, Erik Partaalu, Udanta Singh, John Johnson included, Varsha has been happy with the crowds this season. “Bengaluru is getting crowded,” she said. “There have been lots of new faces at the stadium this season. It’s a good thing for Indian football to see these new fans.”
The BSB aren’t holding back in their efforts either. “For the final, about 400 from BSB are expected to make it,” he said. “About 100 are travelling by a bus, and the remaining are already in Bengaluru and they’ll join us.”
The 2-1 loss that Bengaluru suffered at the hands of Chennaiyin on December 17 was one of the unexpected results of the season and both sets of supporters make a note of that. “The loss was tough to digest,” said Vijay. “Quite a bitter pill. If you ask me, they were better on the day, yes, and the win they had was deserved.”
For Balaji, that was the best memory he had, as a fan this season. Dhanpal Ganesh, a local boy scoring the winner, was the icing on the proverbial cake. “That game was amazing and probably second only to the final against FC Goa that we won,” he said. “When the winner was scored, people were screaming and it’s only fair that a Tamilian scored the winning the goal.
“The rivalry between Bangalore and Chennai goes way back, so it was a really intense game that meant a lot to everyone. To come with three points from their stronghold, was nothing short of absolute brilliance,” he added.
Hassan concurs: “We totally shackled Chhetri in that match. He was invisible and we came away with three points.” Varsha is keen to make a note of the Bengaluru’s 3-1 victory in Chennai: “Yes, it was a difficult game for us but then, we went away and won in their home base. That felt sweet.”
The two sets of supporters are clear about the other side’s dangermen. “Has to be the Indian captain, Sunil Chhetri along with the big man [Erik] Paartalu for me,” said Balaji. “Paartalu has been a game changer for them, who probably doesn’t get enough recognition in the media the same way as probably Miku.”
For the WBB, Jeje Lalpekhlua is a major threat to their team’s dominance. “[There’s] Gregory Nelson since he assisted in both semi-final games. And well, as obvious as this may be, Jeje. He’s scored against us before, he scored a brace versus Goa. He’ll be pumped.” Varsha agrees: “Jeje definitely. He can get a goal from anywhere, anytime. We have to watch out for him.”
On social media, many have used the term “Cauvery Derby” to refer to this fixture, referring to the political dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over sharing water from the river. Both sides disagree with the use of this term, and say it’s a political issue that should not be taken lightly. Says Balaji, “If you ask me, I’d want the Cauvery issue to be kept away from the game, being a sensitive issue between the two states. Personally, I would say it is inappropriate to call it that, with the history of incidents that is attached to it.”
This is a burgeoning rivalry which bodes well for the two geographically proximate fan bases. Vijay sums it up well, “The Bengaluru-Chennai rivalry has always been there. For anything and everything. From the sambhar to the weather, lifestyle to cricket. I’m very sure that it’s gonna happen with football too.”
For the BSB’s Hassan, this is a rivalry which could be beneficial for both teams. “If you look five years back, both sets of fans were nowhere and the football in both cities was minimal,” he said. “Now, you have both teams facing off in the final. Unbelievable.”
Is this going to be an amicable affair then? Balaji has the last word: “Definitely not. Anything but friendly.”
Vijay BFC 2 - 1 CFC
Balaji BFC 0 - 1 CFC
Varsha BFC 2 - 1 CFC
Hassan BFC 2 - 3 CFC