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A Tale Of Two Leagues

A chance encounter led Abhishek Bachchan to snap up a team in the country’s Pro Kabaddi League in 2014. He followed it up with a football team in the Indian Super League a few months later. Arun Janardhan catches up with the part-team owner, strategist-in-chief and easy-going sports guru

Arun Janardhan

It was Chennaiyin FC’s first home football match in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League, in October 2014. Team co-owner Abhishek Bachchan was stuck in a car, headed to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Bachchan was happy to see the crowd – it meant people were flocking to see football in a city that’s traditionally supported cricket – but stressed that he was going to miss the opening moments of the match.

So he leaped out and started sprinting the last yards, ignoring the curious looks. As he reached the gates, the national anthem started playing, so he stood still, feeling awkward and anxious. By the time he reached the stands, he found his father Amitabh Bachchan, his friend Rajinikanth and opponents Kerala Blasters’ coowner Sachin Tendulkar tucked in together.

“The greatest were all on one sofa, which was cute because it wasn’t a big sofa. Ten minutes into the match, I realised no one’s watching the eld. All the fans were looking at these three,” the 43-year-old remembers.

Seated in a conference room in the family office bungalow Janak in Mumbai, Bachchan chuckles at the thought of the incident from five years ago. He was then the owner of two new teams in two new leagues – the Pro Kabaddi League and the ISL – and treading into the unknown. Now, even as the seventh season of the PKL is underway and prep for the sixth season of the ISL later this year has started, the actor has lessons learned, experiences to be shared and much to look forward to.

The PKL was a risk that all stakeholders took, turning an earthy, indigenous sport into a glitzy annual event that’s the second-most popular sporting league in the country after the Indian Premier League. His team, the Jaipur Pink Panthers, won the first season, while Chennaiyin FC have two ISL titles so far, though they finished last in 2018-2019. Since that fateful day, when he had three superstars on a couch, Bachchan has become synonymous with the two leagues, his enthusiastic presence in the stands a familiar image every season.

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August 2019