Top 5 iconic football stadiums in India
- A look at 5 Indian football stadiums steeped in rich history and legacy.
- Some famous international footballers have graced the turf of these stadiums.
Apart from the game itself, which is the one thing that fuels the atmosphere of a football game the most? That one thing that gives a home team an immense boost during a match? That is often written alongside a football match score? The answer to all of these questions is the same — the stadium, filled with fans cheering for their beloved teams.
History is witness to stadiums that have cemented their aura in the hearts of football fans. Fans call them their second homes. That is the beauty of these venues. Every club or country has such special places. Anfield for Liverpool, Wembley for England, San Siro for the two clubs from Milan, and Old Trafford for Manchester United are but just a few examples in this regard.
Stadiums are often the bearers of magical nights, scripting themselves in history in a manner difficult to be explained in words. There are many football stadiums in India whose stands speak of the game's rich legacy and history. On that note, let us have a look at five such stadiums in the country that are replete with a truckload of memories and legacy of the beautiful game.
#5 Fatorda Stadium, Goa
Goa is incomplete without football, and football in India is incomplete without Goa too. It is a no-brainer that Goa has a great legacy of football. The Fatorda Stadium in Goa has seen its fair share of football and cricket since the day it has existed.
But in this tiny part of the country, football eclipses cricket right in its face, something we don't come across too often. Fatorda has had a taste of almost every major footballing event that has graced the country. You name it, and Fatorda has been witness to it.
The erstwhile National Football League, the I-League, the Indian Super League, the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and the U17 FIFA World Cup. 6 Goan clubs call Fatorda their home. Churchill Brothers, Dempo, Salgaocar, Vasco, Sporting Goa and FC Goa play their home games in this stadium. Many seasoned veterans and present footballers have emerged after showcasing their talents on this ground, and hence, Fatorda finds a place in this list.
#4 JLN Stadium, New Delhi
Having this stadium on this list might rub salt on the wounds of Delhi Dynamos fans after the club shifted base to Odisha following a dismal run in the capital city. The last couple of ISL games at this ground were all played out to almost empty stands, with only a handful of fans to support their club. The club connection might be lacking here, but there have been some memorable moments for the national team in this stadium.
In 2017, hosts India were raring to make a mark at the U17 FIFA World Cup. Delhi's majestic JLN Stadium was one of the venues in that tournament. The fact that it was hosting India's matches in a FIFA tournament made for a special occasion.
A sense of euphoria enveloped the stadium when the colts stepped out on the pitch, and the national anthem was sung for the first time in a World Cup on home soil. India, though, lost their games against USA, Ghana and Columbia. Jeakson Singh scored India's first ever goal in a FIFA World Cup, to get the stadium buzzing. It was one of those magical nights, and that makes the JLN Stadium deserving enough to find a place in this list.
Besides, who can forget the Bayern Munich team that played against India in 2012? Bhaichung Bhutia could not have had a better farewell in that game. The German giants mesmerised the spectators and challenged the Indian players to match the latter's technicality. The JLN Stadium surely has given us a fair share of memories, hasn't it?
#3 Cooperage Stadium, Mumbai
Contrary to popular perceptions, Mumbai, or Bombay as the city was previously known, has had a long history of football in the country, a fact perhaps not known by many. But there is no one to blame for this mess. In recent years, the turnout in the Mumbai Football Arena has been low, and there are more European football fans than local club supporters in the stadium. However, the streets of Colaba will never forget the glory of this stadium, and we're here to remind you about that too.
The origin of football in the island city dates back to 1891, when some British football enthusiasts started a tournament called the Rovers Cup. Initially only British regiments were allowed to play, but later on many Indian clubs were allowed to compete in the tournament.
In Rovers Cup games at the Cooperage, fans filled the stadium to the brink whenever an Indian club played, purring in delight whenever their countrymen tackled the British or dominated them. The Rovers Cup was last held twenty years ago, but plans to revive the competition are surfacing.
Clubs like Mahindra United FC, Air India FC and Mumbai FC call this ground their home. For many years, the Cooperage has been an iconic part of top-tier football in the country. However, its stature has dwindled in recent times since the emergence of the Mumbai Football Arena.
#2 Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi
Another stadium from Delhi, the Ambedkar Stadium, finds a mention in this list. The Ambedkar Stadium, named after the great social reformer, Babasaheb Ambedkar, embodies the motive and very spirit of the game of football.
The history of this stadium dates back to 1940, when the Durand Cup was first played here. The Durand Cup was one of the most prestigious tournaments in those days, so much so that it was customary for the President of India to have a cup of tea with the two captains during half-time of the final. Many iconic Indian clubs have graced this ground over the years.
The DCM Trophy was another famous competition, which started in 1945 and continued till 1997, that was played at the Ambedkar Stadium. Foreign clubs were also invited to play the Durand Cup.
The Nehru Trophy was played at this stadium in 2007 and 2009. Who can forget Sunil Chhetri's hat-trick against Tajikistan in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup that took India to the 2011 Asian Cup?
Currently, the Subroto Cup is held at the Ambedkar Stadium, which plays hosts to various local Delhi clubs that take part in the I-League second division.
#1 Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
This historic stadium takes the first place in this list owing to its rich footballing legacy. There was a concrete reason behind the establishment of this stadium. The maidans of Calcutta, as Kolkata was then called, could not accommodate the huge influx of people wanting to watch football matches.
Thus in 1984, this stadium was built to allow around 85,000 people to watch football games. The Kolkata Derby is usually played in front of a jam-packed Salt Lake stadium, which adds to the legacy and atmosphere of this fixture.
In recent times, the Salt Lake Stadium has hosted many international matches featuring India. It has also seen some of the world's greatest players grace its turf. In 2011, a certain Lionel Messi played in this stadium during a friendly game between Argentina and Venezuela.
German legend Oliver Kahn played his last match for Bayern Munich against Mohun Bagan, at this ground, a game the visitors won 3-0. The football-loving population of the City Of Joy are known to be vocal in their support, something that becomes especially evident during local derbies.
The 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup final was held at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. It wasn't a surprise that the game was a sell-out. In the final between Spain and England, the spectators made for a captivating atmosphere not seen in many U-17 games anywhere in the world.
The experience of watching football at this stadium cannot be defined or described in mere words. It is an experience of a lifetime that can only be felt from the stands.Published 22 Apr 2020, 02:10 IST