Sports fanaticism is often enigmatic for the uninitiated. Of them, while the light-hearted acknowledge the ‘craziness’ with a fascinated smile, the most rational dismiss the ‘obsession’ with an exasperated eye-roll or a head-shake in disbelief.
Whatever said and done, in a generation of short attention span, it is easily one of the most quintessential forms of passion that there is, for it keeps those smitten perennially hooked.
Ask “Super Machans” and they would tell you. A dedicated fan club for the city-based ISL team Chennaiyin FC with 40-odd fanatics at the core, they have developed and maintained a healthy rapport with the team franchise ever since their inception. From providing logistical assistance to the grassroots programme, to according a warm welcome to the players at the airport, they’ve always been there lending their support in whatever way possible.
“They had invited us and arranged for transportation as well. It meant I had to lose some sleep, but honestly I did not even think about it for I was thrilled that I could meet and receive the players,” says Sriram Santhosh, a class XI student of Montfort Mat. Hr. Sec. School, who was one among those present to cheer the players on their arrival in the city, well past midnight, following their month-long training camp at Perugia in Italy.
Player photos affixed and team flags propped up, his prayer room lays bare his unconditional allegiance. “Before the advent of ISL, I used to watch EPL and follow Manchester City. I was exhilarated when ISL offered the chance to cheer for a team based out of my home city. Initially, when Chennai was not in the fray, I was heartbroken. But eventually it came into being and I’ve been a crazy fan ever since. I try and watch almost all matches live at the stadium,” he says. Ask him to pick his favourites in the team, and the reply is spontaneous. “I can’t. I like them all,” he says chortling.
From the outset, if it’s the passion for the sport that’s the underlying theme, it is the regional sentiment that acts as the major contributing factor to their intense club loyalties. For instance, Shakeel Ahmed quit his corporate job in Bengaluru, lured pre-dominantly, by the prospect of supporting Chennayin FC from home base.
“In Bengaluru, I used to go and watch I-league matches very often. During a match between Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan, I noticed that a sizeable group from Bengal had come all the way, unreserved in train, just to watch their favourite team in action. With the home fans not lagging too far behind, the stadium was packed and the atmosphere was electric. It was then t firmly struck me that Chennai doesn’t boast of as robust a fan culture in football.”
He returned to Chennai and joined the fan club with a resolve to cultivate and sustain a fan culture as synonymous. “I had decided to quit then and Chennaiyin certainly added to the allure of my returning to my home city. I joined the fan club with my other corporate friends." With it, the club activities picked up steam. While the die-hard fans of EPL teams promptly obliged their plea for support, enlisting the newbies wasn’t as simple.
“We used to buy a chunk of tickets for any Chennaiyin match and invite our friends, who are vaguely familiar about football, to watch the game with us. It would help that Chennaiyin is quite formidable an outfit. They don’t lose badly and even when they manage a draw, it isn’t as tame. So our friends would invariably find it very exciting and start contributing voluntarily to our endeavours from then on,” he says.
As to the group’s fancy label, “We picked it up from a bunch of kids and started propagating it on the social media. Soon, the franchise started using it as a catch phrase in its promotional activities. The word ‘machan’ evokes a sense of belonging,” he says.
The team is currently working on a fan-chant that could be voiced in unison to cheer their team during play at the stadium. Josh Peter, who’s unanimously regarded the ‘manager’ of “Super Machans”, says that the group has a strength of around 380 members. As to its desired ‘official’ status, Amoy Ghoshal, Media Manager, Chennaiyin FC, says, “The franchise is happy that they could constantly engage fans in all team-related activities. Discussions are on and they might soon be declared official.”