Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
The home of I-League side Pune FC , Shiv Chattrapati Kridanagri in Balewadi, famously known as Balewadi Sports Complex is one of the best state-of-the-art football venues in India. With a seating capacity of close to 20000, the Balewadi Stadia stands out with respect to its counterparts in terms of full fledged seating arrangement, floodlights, ample parking facilities, toilets, accessibility within the campus, lots of open space, clean roads and entrances, Wi-Fi media section and much more.
Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
Balewadi Sports Complex is a multi-sport venue, hosting diciplines right from an astro turf field for Hockey to a Cycling dome and from Tennis courts to Boxing rings. As with most multi-sport campuses; the main stadium, the Athletics stadia (Balewadi Stadium), hosts the Track and Field events as well as Football. The pitch for the beautiful game is clutched between the synthetic red turf carpet. Thus, the football pitch dimensions barely meet the FIFA guidelines and thus, is visibly a small turf to play on . The quality of the green carpet though has improved over the years as occasional Javelin throws have been replaced with regular soccer throw-ins! With Pune FC making sure the grass remains intact throughout the year for national I-League games, Pune District Football Association on the other hand ropes in experts from UK to make it perfect for the occasional International matches.
Location of the Balewadi Sports Complex proves to be a major hurdle in terms of attracting Football fans from the city. Balewadi is a very small sub-urb located on the outskirts of the Western part of Pune City. A good 25-km odd from East Pune. The incompetent Public Transport to and from Balewadi to the main city areas creates an added problem of commuting. Other issues include:
- The enormous amount of rent for hosting matches (over Rs.1 lakh)
- Oval-shaped stadium limiting good viewing angle for spectators behind the goal posts
- Other sporting events disrupting the ground
Pune hosted the London 2012 Olympic Football Qualifiers for the very first time this year. It has been a fantastic couple of years for Balewadi since the Saturday of October 3, 2009. PFC played their maiden home game of the top tier National League at this very venue on that day and since then, the city’s football fanatics have been treated with top class footballing action right from Dempo’s AFC Club Cup games to the Indian Senior team playing International friendlies. Much more awaits Balewadi in coming years as it welcomes the beautiful game with the beauty that the game deserves!
Ambedkar Stadium, Delhi
Just the mere words ‘Ambedkar Stadium’ spark up the eyes of all Indian Football addicts in India, especially in Delhi. It has lately been the hub of all the international football action in India and without a doubt, has been the battleground where the Bhangra Boys have made a habit to flourish and put in an ‘out of the box’ performance against much better ranked teams in international tournaments such as the coveted Nehru Cup.
Let’s first have a look at the history of the stadium. The Stadia is named in respect and honor of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the renowned dalit leader and chairman of the Indian constituent assembly. The stadium was used for multiple purposes, as it is comes under Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), but it was in 2007 when the stadium had floodlights installed and underwent a major renovation. The pitch was re-laid and in August of the same year, the stadium hosted its first International tournament namely the Nehru Cup. This stadium has been designed and developed keeping the international football criterion in mind. Though still it is a multi use stadium with running tracks, a built-in gymnasium and facilities for other sports, now it is mainly used for Indian National football matches. Ambedkar Stadium has been equipped with ample seating capacity of approximately 20,000 people, with a huge parking lot to top that. The stadium has a big screen at the Ferozshah Kotla End to facilitate the far end action, and replays.
Indian National Team, AIFF XI and Delhi ‘A’ Division League Connection-
Indian National Football team has dramatically won back-to-back Nehru Cup titles at the Ambedkar stadium, ousting Syria on both the occasions. Indian team also won the AFC challenge Cup at the Ambedkar, after the tournament was shifted from Hyderabad, due to bad weather conditions. Ambedkar stadium hosted just the penultimate match between India and Tajikistan and the play-off match, between Myanmar and DPR Korea. Indian team once again stunned the well disciplined opponents, overwhelming the Tajikistanis, to book a place in the Asia Cup after a span of 24 years. The jam-packed stadium, escorted with close stands to the pitch leads to intimidation of the opponents. Indian team, certainly has the history behind their back, to boost their performance, when they host the second leg I-league debutants AIFF XI were supposed be their main leaseholders for 10/11 season, to play their home matches at Ambedkar stadium past season, but due to bad administration of MCD, the pitch was in a bad condition and the team was forced to play their home matches at Tau Devilal Stadium in Gurgaon. I-league Second Division club, New Delhi Heroes also played out many of their home matches at Ambedkar. Since its Inception, Ambedkar Stadium also has also leased out the stadium to Delhi Soccer Association, to host numerous ‘A’ Division league matches.
Owned by MCD, the Ambedkar stadium has often been used for other purposes such as wedding receptions, MCD parties etc. These acts have been candidly criticized by many officials, including former Indian coach Bob Houghton. The stadium was leased at a heavy price of INR 5000 per day, but recently MCD slashed the prices to INR 500 per day, former being the scapegoat reason given by DSA, AIFF and other football committees for not conducting matches, and making unjustifiable compromises in maintaining the stadium.
In an era, where India is already facing a drought of quality football stadiums (Only 3 Stadiums being FIFA certified), the facilities at Ambedkar truly stand out and self nominates itself for being called ‘Home of Indian Football’ for all India international matches.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Fatorda, Goa
After being inaugurated in 1989 by the then president of India – Mr. Shankar Dayal Sharma – the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, Margao went on to become the epicenter of sporting activities in the tiny state of Goa. Built in a record span of six months by the then Sports Minister Mr. Francisco Monte Cruz, after being allotted the Nehru Gold Cup in 1989, the Fatorda stadium was like a whiff of oxygen to the suffocating sports fans in Goa. Previously, Campal in Panjim, was Goa’s lone football stadium that ironically graced the feet of footballing legends like Eusebio-Golden Boot winner in 1966 World Cup and Salvatore Schillaci- Golden Boot winner in 1990 World Cup. After the success of the Nehru Gold Cup in 1989, Goa was allotted the Santosh Trophy in 1990 which they won beating Bengal 2-0 in the finals. They also won the U-21 B.C. Roy Trophy that year.
Fatorda indeed proved to be a lucky venue for Goa and the Nehru Stadium was here to stay. The pinnacle of glory came no doubt when a Bruno Coutinho led India defeated Bangladesh in the final of the SAFF Cup in 1999. Cheered on by his home crowd, Bruno led his team to victory beating Bangladesh 2-0 in the final. They had also defeated arch-rivals Pakistan 4-0 in the group stages. Over the next decade and a half since the inception of the National Football League/I-League, the Fatorda stadium has hosted a huge number of games. At one point, Goa had as many as six teams in the NFL with Vasco Sports Club, Dempo Sports Club, Salgaocar Sports Club, Churchill Brothers Sports Club, Fransa Football Club and Sporting Clube de Goa all playing their home games at the Nehru Stadium. Goa had the most representations in the NFL that year and Fatorda hosted more matches than any other stadium in India.
Another feather in the cap of the GFA was when the Federation Cup was held in Goa in 2005. That tournament saw the advent of Zee Sports and the birth of the ZEEbra girls that took the entire nation by storm. The success of the Federation Cup in 2005 prompted Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munsi, the then president of the AIFF to say that it was one of the best organized Federation Cup’s in India. That tournament saw packed stadiums, matches under floodlights and a never before seen telecast that included commentary from the legendary John Helm and Russel Osman together with Debayan Sen and the late Noel Da Lima Leitao. In October 2007, Goa hosted the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon which ended in a 2-2 draw after goals from skipper Bhaichung Bhutia and strike partner Sunil Chettri. The stadium has also hosted eight ODI cricket matches since its inauguration.
At present however, the stadium is in dying need of renovation. It may be recalled that Dempo were forced to shift their AFC Cup matches to Pune for want of floodlights. The AFC too in its inspection has found several deficiencies in the stadium like lack of press facilities, lack of fully seated stands, poor VIP boxes and lack of proper space for broadcasting including a broadcasting room in addition to the major deficiency-floodlights. According to recent news reports, the present Sports Minister has agreed to install floodlights by October paving the way for a possible I-League under floodlights this season. The stadium will also undergo renovation for the 2013 Lusofonia Games and the 2014 National Games both scheduled to take place in Goa’s landmark sports architecture.
Yuba Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata
The Yuva Bharati Krirangan or Salt Lake Stadium was inaugurated in 1984 in Kolkata. One of the largest sports arenas in the world, YBK has a proud and glorious history. The need for a specialist stadium was felt from mid-70s when Eden Gardens used to host football matches. The tragic death of 16 football fans in a Kolkata derby on 16th August, 1980 highlighted the problems of hosting high profile matches at Eden Gardens.
Over the years, the YBK has turned into the most famous football stadium in India. It has hosted hundreds of big matches. In 1997, 131,000 people (still a record in Asian club football) gathered to watch the Federation Cup semi-final between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The Yuva Bharati Krirangan has also played host to Oliver Kahn, playing his last ever football match in Kolkata as well as Roger Milla, Diego Forlan and Diego Maradona. Clubs like Sheffield FC (oldest football club in world), Palmeiras and Bayern Munich have all had the opportunity to play at the Salt Lake Stadium. The atmosphere in the stadium during a “boro match” is electrifying and can rival any football stadium in the world as attested by Sepp Blatter few years back.
Sadly, the stadium has fallen into bad times recently due to ignorance from state government and football authorities. The structure is collapsing in numerous places and no renovation has been done in years. Stadium premise is filled with overgrowth of shrubs and its ill maintained. Recently, it was revealed that several private companies have set up shops and go downs inside stadium area without having permission from proper authorities. Few years back police captured a number of most wanted criminals who were hiding inside Salt Lake Stadium’s premises. Security situation is also poor and fans entering the stadium are rarely checked. Few months back an East Bengal supporter was severely injured by a hand-made bomb during a Kolkata derby.
The facilities given to teams are also questionable. Few years back YBK suffered the ignominy of flood lights going out during a world cup qualifier between India and Japan. On investigation, it was revealed that rats had somehow managed to get into circuit wires and nibble through them! Visiting teams have often complained about the lack of warm water in showers. Bhola Nandi, the man responsible for these things would always quip with “It happens everywhere in world” whenever he was asked to give explanation of things like these. Thankfully, Nandi has been removed recently.
At this point of time it is very difficult to renovate a 100,000 capacity stadium. With the West Bengal government under considerable debts it seems unlikely that condition of YBK will improve in recent future.
JawaharLal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium first came into existence nearly thirty years back, when India was selected to host the ninth edition of Asian Games in the year 1982. With the establishment a multipurpose sports arena, clubbed with the successful conclusion on the 1982 Games in it; India showcased it to the entire continent that they do possess the ability to hold a world class sporting event.
This stadium went a long way in establishing India as a sporting powerhouse at least on the continental map, as later on it played host to the Asian Athletics Championships in 1989. later on it was selected as the headquarters of the Indian Olympic Association.
When not holding any such world championships, football took center stage at the stadium. Matches of National Football League (replaced by I-league) were a regular fixture at the stadium till the league was folded in the year 2007 after being in existence for twelve years. Till 2009 along with the Ambedkar stadium, JLN stadium used to co-host Delhi Soccer Association’s league A matches as well.
The stadium in the nation’s capital, had a long wait of nearly twenty one years before it held another major event – the 2010 Common Wealth Games. Games and Athletics took the back seat as corruption by the IOA officials made the headlines for an entire year leading up to the games. While the media was leaving no stone unturned in scrutinizing the officials; the JLN stadium, which was selected to hold the opening and the closing ceremonies besides all the athletic events, was undergoing a renovation.
The stadium was renovated on the lines of Foshan stadium of China and a new Teflon roof was also added to it which is similar to the roof of the London Olympic stadium. In addition to the improvements in the infrastructure, the track and field facilities received a facelift as well. The stadium now boasts of a new ten lane synthetic track, a synthetic practice track and a synthetic lawn bowls field.
These latest changes forced the capacity of the stadium to go down from 78,000 to 60,000. Irrespective of the cut down,, the atmosphere in the stadium is electric once it was filled to its capacity crowd, which was observed throughout the CWG 2010.
Handing over to the AIFF:
In a seminar of South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) held in mid April in Delhi, the Sports Minister of India revealed that the JLN stadium will be transformed into a football stadium and would eventually become the home ground of Indian national football team. It was after this announcement that it was handed over to the AIFF. It was decided by the ministry, as they had invested a fortune is developing the stadium for the CWG and now they wanted football to reap benefit from the world class facilities which this colossal stadium has at its disposal.
The return leg of the World Cup qualifier against U.A.E on the 28th July, 2011 was scheduled to be the first match of the national team on this ground. Much to the embarrassment of the authorities the match got shifted to Ambedkar Stadium, as the ground was deemed to be unfit for holding a football match.
Quite a few heads will be rolling as even after investing millions in the name of renovations, The Nehru stadium will not be used at the end of July. The fact that the players will not be able to enjoy the world class facilities of the stadium has irked majority of football followers through out the length and breath of the nation.
Politics and delays go hand in hand in our country; unfortunately it was proven right this time as a result of which the shift in venue had to take place. All is not lost though and the players can draw heart from the fact in the past; Ambedkar stadium has proved to be a lucky hunting ground for the Bhangra Boys. But the authorities will have the task cut out for them due to extreme closeness of the pitch with the fans. In the past numerous incidents of objects being thrown at the players have been reported at the Ambedkar stadium which can come back to haunt them again during the world cup qualifier.
We hope that the AIFF would learn from their mistake and would try their level best to get the stadium and the pitch back up running at the earliest as the facilities which were on display at the CWG impressed officials and players from world over. It’s a pity we won’t be to utilize them this time around.