Imagine how this might sound to a stranger – Planning a trip to a country 3000 kms away, taking more than a week off from work and spending a ton of money to watch a couple of games of football. They would well and truly label us crazy and that’s exactly what we are. Crazy for football and crazy for Arsenal.
But I will get to that wonderful journey later. As all stories go, let’s start from the beginning.
Europeans and South Americans are known for their passion for football. But the world as a whole is still unaware of the Asian contingent. The late kick offs are exactly that. We stay up till the wee hours to catch a game. It may be at 1AM or much later in the day in case of our brothers from the other Southeast Asian countries and then start our day immediately. No wonder we consume so much caffeine to get through the rest of the day. I can’t remember the number of days I have spent sleeping in class and office after staying up to watch The Arsenal and I am sure a lot of you would identify with me. Sure we live in South India which is about 12,000 kms away but we are as emotionally invested in the club as a guy living in North London would be.
Arsenal Chennai Supporters Club is a Facebook group created by Raghuveer Patrachari and Enoch Paul in March, 2012. It was created with the idea of being a Group where Gooners from all over Tamil Nadu can interact with each other and watch Arsenal games together. Now a little over 3 years later, our numbers has swelled to over 2200.
We started out as just another Facebook group, the one of many football based groups on FB. I was, if my memory serves me right the 7th member who was added here and even I thought it would be just another group in which we would lose interest after a while. There have been times when I have been gravely wrong. Like trusting Van Persie to stay at Arsenal or thinking Ramsey won’t turn out to be good ( I seek absolution for that, Oh Welsh Jesus ! ) but I have never been wrong as wrong as I was about this group. This is a brotherhood.
Our very first screening was the game against Manchester City where Arteta scored the winner. It was held at the now defunct HOC. I was lucky enough to be one among the 30ish crowd where we all got to know each other. Most of the big games were screened, we all started playing football together on a weekly basis and the group grew slowly and steadily in the coming years.
The most decisive period as I would like to call it was last season i.e 2014-15. We had been talking about watching all the games together for a long time and we finally acted together. I can proudly say that we screened almost 80% of the Arsenal games last season. Even the game against QPR at 1 AM in the morning which we had to stream on a laptop and project onto the screen. That is the amount of craze that you find here. Due to the regular screenings, the guys from the group all pitched in money and we bought our very own Projector. There are guys who travel 80 kms to come for screenings. This is solely to watch the game with fellow Gooners. And they are there every game. This type of conviction is something unheard of for me. I was stunned at first and then it turned to awe which has by now turned to respect. There are at least 20-30 guys who make it a point to turn up for each and every game. After the Champions League games there are many who wait at the Railway Station from 2:30 AM till 4:30 AM for the first train. If this commitment doesn’t convince you that we are more than a FB group, then nothing will I guess.
Cannon Cup is a football tournament with the intention of promoting football in Chennai was the brainchild of Enoch. It was finally executed just before the season started with help from Visvesh, I and contributions from various members of ACSC. The second season with the help of a lot more gooners from ACSC has just been completed last weekend with resounding success. 48 teams participated in the two day tournament.
The highlight of last year though was definitely the Indian Super League. ISL was a superb platform for ACSC. First up the gooners from ACSC watched all the games together. There are many who watched all the games from the group. ISL had brought to us a lot of former Gunners like Mikael Silvestre who played for Chennai, Andre Santos with Goa, Freddie Ljungberg and Anelka with Mumbai and finally the biggest of them all Robert Pires with Goa.
For the first game we started off with a 6′ X 4′ banner which read Chennaiyin Gooners. The banner was a huge hit in the group and due to support we raised money from group to make something astounding. A 50 feet INVINCIBLES banner was the result. The next game was against Mumbai and we made this banner with the hope of seeing Ljungberg, an important member of the Invincibles in action. Sadly he got injured in the previous game and didn’t even travel to Chennai. Not to be perturbed we went along with the banner which irked Abhishek Bachchan and MS Dhoni applauded us when he saw it. This made the effort worth it.
Once again the reception in the group was overwhelming and the work on a banner for our Chennaiyin players started. The slogan was sourced in-house from the group members, all the banners were designed in-house and funds poured in from members living all around the globe. You need to just ask for help and you shall receive it from someone in the group. That is the beauty of ACSC. Our second 50 feet banner was for the star players of Chennaiyin FC, Mendy and Elano both of whom at one point of time plied their trade in EPL. Yet another important event of the ISL was the Cleaning Initiative we as a group took up in the beginning of the tournament and continued with till the very end. One of our senior members, Venkat Dhandapani came with the idea and the group took to it splendidly. We had all seen the Japanese cleaning after them in Brazil during the WC and thought we could do the same in our Singara Chennai.
We slowly garnered support and in the later games cleaned as many as three stands. Armed with plastic gloves,garbage bags and Arsenal jerseys we were a sight to behold for the spectators and some even pitched in with the cleaning. A byproduct of this wonderful initiative was the small media coverage we happened to attract. Yet another way to show that everything related to Arsenal is always Classy.
Almost none of these events were planned in advance. We neither knew about the ISL before or thought we could do these things. Things kinda materialized on their own. Just like they do in fairy tales. 😉
I haven’t even started on the frenzy that took place when Pires came to town. Lets save that for second part. This is my first attempt at something of this sort and there would be many mistakes. Thanks for patiently getting till the end.
Cheers and Up the Arsenal !!!