The wait is over for Chennai football fans as after more than a decade the city will be represented at India’s top-tier tournament.
Chennai City FC became the first club to make its way into the I-League since Indian Bank participated in the National Football League in 2004.
Founded in 1946 as Nethaji Sports Club, the Chennai-based club is currently the oldest in the league after East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. However, this will be the first time Chennai City will take part in a top-flight competition.
Nethaji Sports Club was always a strong team in the Chennai Super League, but limited resources did not allow them to take the leap into the big league. It changed when media baron Rohit Ramesh bought the club in 2013 and invested heavily.
The results were almost instantaneous. Chennai City gained promotion to the senior division in 2014 and last season finished third in the Chennai Football Association (CFA) League. The biggest moment came on December 11 when they were granted direct entry into the I-League.
The debut is huge for the Chennai club, but it is not without challenges. Talking to HT, Chennai City FC skipper Dharmaraj Ravanan said, “We had just 27 days to practice before the start of the I-League and that is certainly not enough to get ready for such a big competition.”
The debutants also did not get enough time to create their squad in the short period of time and had to make do with players cast off or not recruited by other I-League clubs.
The 34-year old Ravanan, who played for Dempo, Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan and Mahindra United, will lead the club in their debut season. He will be joined by fellow Tamil Nadu footballer Dhanpal Ganesh and Chennaiyin FC’s Zakeer Mundampara along with former Salgaocar FC captain Karanjit Singh.
Historically, I-League debutants (except for Bengaluru FC, Pune FC and United SC) have not enjoyed a good run in their first season and Chennai City FC are cautious when it comes to their objective.
Asked about expectations from the season, Ravanan said, “It is too early to think about winning the title. We want to play good football and hopefully we will be able to finish in the top 5.”
Chennai fans showed great character while supporting Chennaiyin FC in the ISL, and Ravanan thinks they will back Chennai City in the same manner when they start their campaign against fellow debutants Minerva Punjab FC on January 8.
“There is no conflict there. Chennai fans support local football and as a result will have no issue in loving both teams equally. The two teams are in different leagues and I am sure the fans will be rooting for us like they have supported Chennaiyin over the last three years.”