ISL 2017/18: B-Stand Blues, the loyal force behind Chennaiyin FC's march to the title
If you go to Chennai and play the game there, it's very hostile. People love and support the game there. It's great for football in India.- Sunil Chhetri
A day before the 2017/18 ISL final, India and Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri recalled the atmosphere when his team travelled to Chennai to take on the now two-time ISL champions Chennaiyin FC. Unlike most of the venues in the country, the Marina Arena made life difficult for the Indian talisman in spite of his legendary status for all that he has done for Indian Football.
They were criticized for doing that to someone of Chhetri's status but the Indian skipper, after the match, went to the Chennayin home fans and acknowledged them. Yes, he acknowledged the Chennaiyin FC fan base who were chanting against him throughout the match.
Just like Chennaiyin FC, their fan club, the B-Stand Blues had an unforgettable ISL season that saw them reach great heights. In spite of doing a fantastic job, the B-Stand Blues (BSB) were at the receiving end of a lot of criticism from the Football fans across the country when they were making conditions tough for Chhetri.
Are they at fault in chanting against India's greatest ever Footballer? No. There is a difference between playing for the country and playing club Football. The main job of the home fans is to cheer for their players and at the same time, make life difficult for the visiting team. That is exactly what the BSB did and Chhetri rightly acknowledged them as this will ultimately help the sport grow in the country.
Sportskeeda caught up with the core team of B-Stand Blues and discussed various issues which included the chants against Indian internationals.
When asked, they said, "when it comes to club football, the national team doesn't matter. This is what is happening all around the world. When people say we need to raise our standards to world football, then we need to have that kind of mentality and we need to accept certain things from fans. Everyone is rather sensitive to certain things. The only parallel we can draw is when someone does something to Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni. When it comes to club football, the national identity is not there.You represent the club and all kinds of banter, it should be accepted as a part and parcel of the game.
Even Sunil Chettri after the home game against Bengaluru FC, he came and acknowledged the crowd, despite us chanting against him. That shows he has some level of understanding that this is done to destabilise the mind. We don't mind the other fans or fan clubs booing our players like when Bengaluru FC booed Dhanpal Ganesh. We take it in a proper way and we give back the same treatment. That is how it should be. We need to absolutely make it hostile for the players and recently, Chettri said that Chennayin FC makes it hostile for other players. That is what we have to aim for as a fan club."
The rise of B-Stand Blues
When the ISL started four years ago, B-Stand Blues was a small group of ten people who attended every home game of the Chennaiyin FC, albeit in no particular stand.
Over time, members of the Chennai Manchester United Supporters Club, Chelsea Chennai, and Madras Kop (LFC Chennai) started streaming in to support their hometown club. These fans realized that if they can unflinchingly support a club that is 3000-4000 miles away, show so much passion in the victories and losses of that club, and conduct screenings in Chennai for the games of this European club they had virtually no connection with, they could certainly do it all for a local club that represents the essence of their city.
"We wanted to give something back to Chennai. That is how we brought this fan club to life. the word 'Blues' was a no-brainer because the club's colour was going to be blue. We chose 'B stand' to precede that because it was the nearest stand available in the stadium which was closest to the home dugout. It was the best plausible option because it was very close to the pitch as well. Our primary rule is to be as close to the team as possible so that the players can hear our chants and we can help encourage them on the field. We are not concerned if we are well positioned to be shown on TV for every matchday. We are content with the players, the staff and the club noticing what we do. That's our main focus and I'm glad we're doing that without any deviation," the members of the core group said.
The fan club might have started with just a handful number of fans after the inception of the league, but its presence improved gradually and by the end of Season 4 of the same, they had more than 250 fans going to every home match. The away travel of BSB was also quite successful, which is very evident from the fact that over 600 fans attended the 2017/18 ISL final in which took place in Bengaluru.
The core members of the BSB admitted that they didn't expect the fan base to become this big in a span of just three to four years. This season also marked the first time they closely worked with the club, were featured on television, and engaged in numerous promotions during the tournament.
When asked about the growth of BSB, they said, "No, we did not expect it to be this big this soon. We wanted it to be an organic set of fans and judging from the last few years, we can say that it grew very gradually."
"This year, the numbers really went up. From the start of the season to its business end, we participated in a lot of promotions and engaged in many activities around the game. We put up a lot of posts on social media. The TV interviews proved to be a nice exposure for us. For the first time, we worked very closely with Chennaiyin FC. We wanted to prove a point. Last year, we were one of the teams at the bottom of the table and we had to do something to rise up. We got good support from the management and on an average, we got 150 folks supporting the team from the stands on every match day."
Overcoming inner conflicts
The fourth edition of the tournament showed that the B-Stand Blues is one of the best fan bases across all sporting leagues of the country. The achievement of this group seems even more incredible when you consider the fact that it does not even have the backing of any big European fan base in the city.
Before the BSB became a force to reckon with, a fan base from Chennai hogged the limelight during the first two seasons of the ISL, especially when Chennaiyin FC hosted FC Goa at the Marina Arena.
The Gooners in Chennai turned up for the Chennaiyin FC matches in huge numbers at the beginning of the maiden season of the ISL but gradually became non-existent. Whenever FC Goa visited the Marina Arena, they turned out in huge numbers and started cheering for the away team, thanks to the presence of Arsenal legend, Robert Pires, in the FC Goa camp.
If you go to your home ground and cheer for your rival, you are bound to get in trouble with the local fans. It was no different with Arsenal Chennai Supporters Club's case. They ended up having a lot of differences with the B-Stand Blues during that period.
"There is actually a handful of fans, who believe that they can keep European loyalties aside in supporting Chennai, and make it to B Stand on a regular basis. However, they prefer not to tell it out. The first thing we found out was that it made sense to bring the football fans in the city together. We went to various fan clubs in Chennai, but we could not tie up with Arsenal Fan Club Chennai," the BSB core team said.
Adding to the same, the members said, "they were very particular in cheering for Robert Pires, who is an Arsenal legend who was playing for FC Goa, even though he was playing against Chennaiyin FC. This was not an ideal scene. If you see in BSB, there are a lot of Liverpool and Chelsea fans, who came out and cheered for Mikel Silvestre, who is a former Manchester United player. Since he was a Chennayin player, they put the European rivalries outside and came to the stadium with an idea to support Chennayin. That, unfortunately, did not go through with Arsenal."
Adding to this, BSB are not the only fan club that comes out in huge numbers to support the club. There is one more fan group in Chennai that can be spotted in all the Chennaiyin FC home matches, the Super Machans.
But, the Super Machans do not cheer from the B stand. Instead, they have their own fans supporting the club from other stands. It is believed that there were some differences between both the set of fans in the past, but the reason behind the same is not known.
Now, the BSB is willing to bury the hatchet and affirm that there are no differences between the fan clubs as they have accepted that they are two groups coming from two different schools of thought. However, they have the common goal of supporting Chennaiyin FC.
"Yes, there are two fan major fan clubs for Chennaiyin FC and I don't see a problem with that at all. It is true that we tried to merge in our initial stages but I think we are two intrinsically different groups in how we go about certain things and where we want to position ourselves. So that didn't bear much fruit," a member said.
"Come to think of it now, I don't see any problem with two fanbases because we have learnt to respect and co-exist with each other through a single aim of supporting Chennaiyin FC. That's all that matters. Even the other day, some of us acknowledged how good their banner was for the final in Bengaluru. It was really well done. As long as the both of us are active and give our everything towards cheering loud for the club, we believe it shouldn't worry anyone involved. There are fan clubs for other clubs who hardly contribute anything in spite of being one entity, but in our case, both groups are highly proactive and extremely passionate. Cheers to Supermachans in what they are doing."
Bringing creativity to the table
"We've got Alves, Mailson Alves, I just don't think you understand.....
He's John Gregory's man...
Better than Jhingan...
We've got Mailson Alves!!
Shalalala la Wooooh
Shalalala la Wooooh"
This chant, which BSB have developed for their Brazilian import Mailson Alves, was an instant hit amongst the fans, courtesy its catchy tune. Throughout the ninety minutes, they will be dynamic and will keep singing songs for every single player who takes the field, as well as their coach, John Gregory.
When asked about the origin of the song, they admitted that they pick up the tunes from the other footballing leagues in the world. Despite other fan bases claiming that the tunes BSB use are copied, the Blues are very clear that they are at the stadium to cheer for their players and will try to do that in every way possible.
The chant for fan favourite, and the local boy, Dhanpal Ganesh:
"We follow a lot of world football through competitions like the Premier League, La Liga etc. Hence, we tend to pick up on some of the chants. In the last match, some of them said that we were copying them. These songs have been sung in English terraces for 80-90 years.I don't think copying the tune is wrong. It is not a concert where we need to pay the copyright for the song. It is just a chant that everybody can sing and if a normal fan can pick the tune and the lyrics to cheer for the player, that is what we want to do. We don't want to give them a complicated song to perform. We are not there to create music, we are there to cheer for the players," they added.
Not only are their chants powerful, but the banners they carry for the matches are also instant hits. If you don't believe me, ask the Manjappada (Kerala Blasters' official fan club) about the banner the BSB came up with when Kerala visited the Marina arena earlier in the season.
That banner became was loved immediately even by the away fans and the neutrals. Apart from that, BSB produced several other banners throughout the season and they were all very creative and pleasing to the eye. Behind these ideas are two strong CFC fans- Mani and Monish, who are the focal point of banner design in the fan club.
When asked about the same, the BSB core team said, "Mani and Monish are our main guys when it comes to banner creation. Apart from them, whenever anyone else has any creative ideas, we put it through the group we have, which comprises of around 15 folks. Then, after getting their approval, we share it with the other fans who come to the matches. We ask for everyone's opinion and then arrive at a solution acceptable to all. When it was about KBFC, they totally liked the banner and it literally won over everyone. That was pretty much optimum. Even some of the Manjapadda people came and said it was pretty witty. In the B-Stand Blues, it is not like we have a separate section of people who do all the work. We are a family. We tend to be pretty inclusive and we take a collective call in all matters. That has brought up nice results for us. You can expect further creative banners from us in future."
The travelling Blues
Cheering for the team when they are playing at home is relatively easier than doing the same at away venues, as there is hardly any travel involved in the former. The real deal is when the fans have to shuttle from one city to the other to support the team matches in away games. The B-Stand Blues succeeded in holding a few away travels in the recently-concluded season.
BSB had three away trips to two cities this season and were thrilled to see the response they got from the officials. They were equally backed by the club as well as the team management. They were given the details of what to do at the away venues, which helped them immensely, especially in carrying their banners to different parts of the country. They were quite successful in building a base for themselves in these cities.
"Initially, in the first few years, we had a very little amount of people travelling with the team.The main reason behind that was that we had no communication with the club. This season, that has changed," they said.
"It has made a lot of things easier for us, more so when we want to travel with the club. The first time we went away from home as a fanbase was when we went to Bengaluru and took around 60-75 people from Chennai there. When we turned up in the stands, we found a lot of Chennai supporters, who ended up joining us for the game and it consequently, it turned out to be a really big outing. After the game, these people approached us and told us to call them when we travel for a Bangalore game next time. That is how we built a BSB base in the city and on the day of the final, we travelled in hundreds from Chennai and we had 250 CFC fans join us from Bengaluru. This was the crowd we had built back in December."
When asked about the Kochi trip, they added, "to make it to Kochi was a big achievement for BSB was because the numbers we took there were amazing. We did not expect as many as 45 people to come with us. We expected around ten. However, when the idea to go to the Kerala Blasters game about, people started to give us a lot of positive responses. Away travel was one of the main things we accomplished this season and it is this core group of 10 to 15 group manages everything on these trips. We have a perfect division of labour in our ranks. One guy handles the ticketing, one takes care of hotel stay etc. We had a few hiccups here and there at every stage, but we made sure that these the core team communicates properly. We have been one joint family that has taken BSB from a small group of fans to somewhere where we are being recognised as a proper fan club of Chennayin FC."
Their bond with the owners
It was said that a team is as good as its management.
The officials who work behind the scenes at Chennai in FC definitely have the utmost respect and support from their biggest fanbase. The players and the backroom staff share a brilliant bond with the fans and same is the case with the owners of the club, Abhishek Bachchan and Vita Dani.
The Chennaiyin FC owners, just like its fans, love the club and show a lot of passion when it comes to getting behind the team. For instance, Bachchan is always seen cheering for his team from the dugout and is always involved in the chants that his players receive. It is really good to see someone like him, who is a big European football fan, being passionate about his team, which competes in the Indian domestic circuit.
Vita Dani, on the other hand, is completely different to Abhishek in terms of expressing her emotions. She is the calm head behind the functioning of the club.
The BSB believe that they are grateful to have such owners who interact with the fans on a regular basis.
They lauded them by saying "the owners of CFC are the best owners in ISL. Abhishek (Bachchan) makes it a point to come to the game whenever he can and when it is half-time, he approaches the stands as well. Every time we see him coming down, we chant even more. It is great to see someone of his stature engage with us regularly. It is not just business for him. You can see that it is personal."
"He loves his football, he loves Chennai now and he truly loves this Chennaiyin Football Club that has grown under him. The amount of passion that he has shown (is incredible). He has been involved in every stage right from the beginning. He is always there to support the team on every match-day, whether it is home or away. This kind of confidence generally transpires from the owner to the team and to its fans as well. Abhishek coming to Chennai has been one of the brightest spots of having a hometown club."
"Vita (Dani) ma'am has been extremely supportive of us. She does not express her feelings as much as Abhishek does, but is always there for us to applaud our effort. She acknowledges every single thing that we do, no matter how small or big it is. In one of the matches, we were chanting for one of the support staff members, Mr Sabir Pasha, who works a lot for CFC behind the scenes. She heard us singing and made it a point to go to Mr Pasha, bring him to us and acknowledge our appreciation for his contribution to the team. These small things are what impresses us the most about our owners. They are involved hands-on at every stage of development."
"Abhishek is all about passion and fire, whereas Vita ma'am is the calm person who holds the fort together. They complement each other brilliantly. We have a perfect set of owners who interact with us regularly, which motivates us to come and cheer for the team every time. They have also picked the perfect backroom staff for CFC. I cannot imagine a better set of people working for our club. Every person on the sideline has played his part and is working his socks off so that we can achieve the big dream."
"Last time, we finished seventh. From there to here, it has been a long journey and a lot of work. They have put in a lot of effort and they have ensured that nothing slips by them. They have dealt with every issue in the best way possible. We are proud to have such owners and coaches who have been absolutely brilliant for CFC. Hats off to the whole team," they added
The B-Stand Blues, West Block Blues and the Manjappada......
There won't be any fun in a sport without ensuing banter between fans, but it is really important to make sure that it does not cross over into hatred for the opponents. There is a thin line that separates banter from vicious attacks on the clubs or the players, and the BSB are very particular in knowing their limits in this area.
Banter is something that is frequently seen in European leagues where not only the fans but also their social media handles are involved in some high-quality banter during their fixture. But, the same cannot be said in India as people do not have that mentality yet. Sport without banter and the healthy rivalry among the fans won't grow effectively and a rivalry needs to break barriers to make the teams involved to the next level.
As we saw earlier, Chhetri went to the BSB and showed appreciation for them in spite of their chants against him in the game. This is what healthy rivalry looks like. The fans should involve in these things and make sure that the sport reaches the next stage and at the same time, they should make sure that things do not go personal at any point of time.
The BSB stated, "banter is very much important so that the fan culture improves in India. People here generally tend to get offended pretty easily and say that this is some European culture that is creeping into the sport. We need to have proper rivalries to grow, break our limits, and go to the next stage. It is a motivating thing that we need to be better than them because they have a pretty high level and to beat them, we have to pull our socks up. I think we have established that this season. In both our away games, we put to rest a lot of things that were being said about our team, on social media and otherwise. We would encourage every club to have healthy banter, but to make sure that it doesn’t go too personal. Ultimately, everyone needs to remember that while we are all in this for our clubs and our players, there is an ulterior motive to it. We have a huge responsibility to make Indian Football that much of a better place and take it to the World Cup ultimately. That responsibility is there for each and every fan."
Talking about the fan rivalries in ISL, there are just three well-known fan bases in the country and all of them belong to Southern India- Bengaluru FC's West Block Blues, Kerala Blasters' Manjappada and of course, the BSB.
The West Block Blues (WBB) are one of the oldest fan bases in the country and both WBB and BSB have a mutual respect for each other. The BSB feel that it is a bit easier for them to involve in banter with WBB as they understand the intricacies of the game.
"West Block Blues have been around in Indian football for a little longer than CFC. The main thing about them is that they understand football, they are people who understand their games, the players, the fan culture, the coach, and everything involved in the club. That makes it very easy for us to banter with them. If you check all our social media handles, all the exchanges that we have are purely on footballing terms. Even if it diverts to sarcasm from time to time, it is still based on football and never crosses the line. We might have the banter on the pitch and on social media, but after the game, they are always there to congratulate us after a victory. They are very nice people to interact with, mainly because we share the same premise. We love football and we cheer for our hometown. They do the same," BSB said about their banter with the West Block Blues.
But, the same cannot be said of their relationship with the Blasters' Manjappada.
Talking about the same, the BSB spokesperson said, "as far as Manjappada is concerned, we have our own reservations against them. That is because it isn't entirely a football-oriented fanbase yet. Yes, they bring 31-35k people to the stadium for every game, which is remarkable because no other city has been able to do that. So, credit where it is due. However, in terms of football and sporting culture, I don't think they are up there yet. They're slowly coming on, they are trying. Maybe they should start doing chants, for starters. They're still doing a version of 'Sachin Sachin' for their 'Blasters Blasters' chant. I went to Kochi for an away game and if you take the vuvuzelas away from their hands, they have nothing but the Blasters chant and the flashlight that goes on for 90 minutes. If you put 30k people together anywhere, they will certainly make noise. It is no surprise they are loud in the stadium, but you still have to make the right noises. That is where the problem lies."
There is only one king in a jungle!
For the passion the B-Stand Blue show in Chennaiyin FC matches, it comes as a surprise when that they don't support the I-league side from Tamil Nadu, Chennai City FC at all. This team has now shifted its base from Chennai to Coimbatore.
This shift is because of some of the irrelevant comments that passed by the owner of Chennai City FC, who is a part of the Arsenal Chennai Supporters Club, against the club and also against ISL.
Adding to this, Chennaiyin FC was started from scratch while Chennai City was purchased by someone else and was just renamed. Yet, Chennaiyin FC has achieved more than their I-league compatriots from the same state.
Talking about their decision not to support Chennai City FC, the BSB core said, "there is only one king in a jungle! I think Chennaiyin FC has proved time and again why it should be the club that deserves the backing of the city fans. When Chennaiyin FC was being established, a local Football club was bought and renamed as Chennai City FC. A few comments were passed by the owner of CCFC on Chennaiyin FC and the ISL, which was not at all relevant at that point of time. We were relatively new and we still did our best and reached the playoffs that season. Yet, this guy went on Twitter and did some gimmicks that really didn't go well with the fans who had started following the club afresh. Honestly, from what has transpired in Chennai City FC, we can say that Chennaiyin FC has done much more and progressed a lot more than as a club in all verticals. Clearly, there is only one winner in this contest, and it is Chennaiyin FC all the way. You will never see Abhishek or Vita Ma'am speak unnecessarily, these people are all about action and we have proved it not once, but twice on the field."
What's next for the B-Stand Blues?
The Chennaiyin FC and the BSB have had a successful season in the ISL this year, as they went on to win the tournament for the second time. They have The Super Cup coming up and it looks unlikely that the BSB will travel to Bhuvneshwar, unless the ISL Champions manage to make it to the final of the tournament.
What's next for the B-Stand Blues? One can certainly say that the fans are set to experience the majestic Asian nights' experience soon, considering their club has qualified for the AFC Super Cup after winning the ISL.
"There are a lot of aspects that need to improve. We will not reveal everything right now but will bring on the changes next year. We have got a lot of visibility and there are a lot of expectations from us. We will try to bring in more people and we will try to get different kinds of fans to the stadium. We are expecting something completely different on Asian nights. I have been told by some people from WBB that you Chennaiyin FC will definitely grow as a club in the Asian swing. We are looking forward to that and to establish ourselves further to take the club to the next level," they concluded.
Chennaiyin FC players played out of their skin to win their ISL title this season and one must say that the support of B-Stand Blues must have been massive in helping them achieve the same. The fans were vocal throughout the season and they will look to continue that in the upcoming editions of the ISL too.
Hats off to B-Stand Blues for turning out in huge numbers to cheer for their home team and I, as a fan of Chennaiyin FC, am inspired to attend almost all the matches in the upcoming seasons because of them.
I hope this brings out a lot of fans from other parts of the country to support their hometown ISL club and effectively, help the sport grow even further in India.