31-year-old Saravanan, a marketing executive in Chennai, is ready to dust off his yellow paint cans after a two-year long wait. This Chennai Super Kings follower can be immediately recognised at the stands of Chepauk, by his face which is painted yellow in support of his home team.
But not only is he an avid fan of the IPL franchise, he is also one of the brains behind the team's registered fan groupâ€”Chennai Super Kings FC. The group which started with 15 people, has grown immensely over the last two years since its creation. It now has 50 core members from across Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, it was registered a year after CSK was banned but that has not affected the interest of fans.
"Saravanan and I would meet at Chepauk very often and we struck a friendship during the matches," says Prabhu Damodaran, the President of the fan club. "Soon we met many like-minded people and formed a group and decided to register as a fan club," he adds.
Before the club was registered, however, came the Facebook page in 2013.
Till 2015, it only had about 30,000 members according to the administrators. It was after the ban that the number grew, hitting three lakh today.
"It was incredible how popular the page became after the ban,â€ť says Prabhu. "It is like when something is gone, you miss it so much and remember it more. Cricket is an emotional subject for fans in Chennai. We felt like the players and supporters were punished for the owner's mistake," he adds.
When the team was banned, the group organised a campaign outside Chepauk and collected 13,000 signature to 'Save CSKâ€™.
Now, as CSK gets set to play after a two-year ban, Saravanan and three lakh members who follow the group's official page are gearing up for a grand welcome.
"Chennai is going to see celebrations on a grand scale when CSK plays in 2018. "We are going to stand in line overnight to get the first ticket for the comeback match and we will all be painted yellow," says Prabhu, excitedly. "That is not all, we are planning to take children from an orphanage for the match as well," he adds.
In the team's absence from the tournament, not only has the number of members grown but the group has even organised several charitable events to celebrate CSK and MS Dhoni. Another page run by them for the Indian captain has over four lakh members.
"Around 500 of us from the FB page are very active members. This year, with fans from Salem, we collected Rs 50,000 during MS Dhoni's birthday," explained Prabhu, who resides in Coimbatore. "The money was then used to buy cricket kits for underprivileged sportspersons," he adds.
The year before that, the group pooled resources to buy 25 kg of rice for an old age home in Chennai and to distribute toys in an orphanage in Anna Nagar.
"We visited the orphanage again in June after the ban was lifted on CSK and distributed sweets to all the children," says Prabhu.
Time to celebrate CSK
The core group consists of businessmen, designers, IT professionals and several other working members. But they still take time out to contribute to the Facebook page. "The posts are in fact handled by a fan in Nepal called Sonal. We all do our bit in terms of the design, the content, etc," says Prabhu. "But one of our main rules is to not put up anything negative about another team or player."
Most of their content is memes surrounding the team and players' achievements in tournaments so far. "We also constantly scour social media to find pictures of players at airports or with their family to put up," says Prabhu.
Several of the core team members travel throughout south India to watch CSK play. During the ban, they travelled to Pune to watch the home team's match against Gujarat. "Both Dhoni and Raina were playing and we had to see it. We carried a poster that said 'We miss CSK'," laughs Prabhu.
"Our families think we are crazy," admits Saravanan, who is also the secretary of the group. "We go for every match irrespective of what time or day it is. When CSK returns to play in Chennai next year, it will be like a grand festival for all the fans here," he declares.
By arrangement with Chennai Super Kings FC, Copyright: BCCI
Will Dhoni be back to lead the team?
"Of course he will," says Saravanan. "He is also emotionally attached to the Chennai team. We saw him at TNPL with the yellow jersey and that shows what he wants," he adds.
Prabhu, however, says the team will retain support irrespective of whether Dhoni returns. "Chennai is a cricket loving city. We don't support any one player. If Dhoni believes he is the right person to lead the team, he will return," he explains. "But whoever is in the team, they can be for sure that we will be attending every single match," he adds.
(All pictures by arrangement with Chennai Super Kings FC)