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Football in Chennai - On a slippery surface

Nehru Stadium

A walk on the pitch at the Nehru Stadium near the Chennai Central station symbolises the dismal state of the game in the city. The venue, once lauded as one of the finest in the country, is close to shambles.

Uneven coverings of grass, remnants of tents (probably used for political rallies), and bald patches on the field paint a sorry picture of the state of the game in Chennai.

Though the city boasts about its abundant talent, the facilities to nurture them have been a problem faced by many. In addition, monetarily, the sport does not attract aspirants.

“We are facing a financial crisis. We don’t get enough (monetary) support from the government too” says Feroz Khan, General Secretary, Tamil Nadu Football Association (TFA).

The senior division matches of the Chennai Football Association (CFA) league are often played in front of empty stands

The senior division matches of the Chennai Football Association (CFA) league are often played in front of empty stands

With no local club playing in the I-League for the last six years (Indian Bank last played in 2006), corporates too have turned their backs towards its development.

In recent times, the TFA Shield, revived after 32 years, saw the backing of a corporate entity. However, it was believed in footballing circles that the latter had taken over the reigns completely from the hands of TFA – an allegation that was rubbished by the authorities.

The tournament saw Integral Coach Factory (ICF), a local team win. Eight local teams, five from districts surrounding Chennai (but within Tamil Nadu) and three major teams – Kerala Police, Pune FC and United Bangalore participated in the event.

“The response for the finals of the tournament was exactly the same when Tamil Nadu played its Santosh Trophy match here. In fact, it was more than expected” says Khan.

In addition, he said that Tamil Nadu’s performance in Santosh Trophy (they finished runners-up last year) has been a crowd-puller in the city. The association accredited this performance to Syed Sabir Pasha, as they had given him the complete authority to manage the team.

But the negatives disappoint the fans more.

A stagnation in the facilities provided has largely been observed. The grounds are not properly maintained. Matches get cancelled due to water-logging issues. No ambulance is stationed when a game is underway – a protocol to be followed as per the All India Football Association (AIFF).

Many such factors have hampered the grooming of a possible Pele or Messi from a city.

Syed Sabir Pasha

“Coaches are not able to hone the player’s skills of a slide tackle or a diving header due to the bad ground conditions,” says Syed Sabir Pasha, a former India player.

Pasha has been one of the very few players from the city to have donned the national colours.

There has been a lack of interest from parents to encourage their kids. “The parents see no potential development of the kid in the sport and hence choose academics over it” says Pasha.

He added that even if there would be some interest shown by them, it would only be to secure admissions into a good educational institution through the sports quota.

“In Chennai, the problem lies with the attitude among players. Most of them play only to get a job in any government organisation” says an AFC (Asian Football Confederation) licensed coach.

Government intervention in the sport has been disappointing. “Just by giving away prize money in a game or two would not help. Rather, focus should be on wholesome development,” says Pasha.

This, he said while talking about how governments only put up a mask when they show their ‘support’ towards the sport.

Speculation have been doing the rounds about starting a premier football league on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL). With opportunities such as these, the onus is on the association to do some damage control and capitalise on the surging trend.

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