Peeep! The referee blew the whistle at the Ambedkar Stadium in the national capital. A football match kicked off at the multi-purpose stadium in old Delhi. There were about hundred people in the stadium, witnessing a some what unusual turn of events. Something, which Delhi crowd was not used to for many a seasons of Indian football. No, the match wasn’t a part of any national tournament, neither a friendly, nor a fixture of a far forgotten tournament organised by the Indian army. It was about the best football players in India. I-league was here.
This wasn’t just another irrelevant match in the league. National champions Dempo were locking horns against a club not so familiar to the Delhi audience. When AIFF decided that the Mumbai based institutional side ONGC FC would play their home matches at Delhi, it came as breath of fresh air for all the Indian football lovers, not only in Delhi, but the whole north Indian region. Fans were excited to see and cheer their favorite players, teams in action, at least once. But after all these steps taken in the right direction, with a motive to spread the word about the league in areas from where no club is participating at the highest level, attracting football lovers to the stadiums, AIFF had other ideas. The fixtures were then rolled out, and it broke many a hearts.
Here is quick sneak peek into the fixtures, their dates and timings of kickoff-
It is quite evident from the fixtures that AIFF served in the fans’ plate, that not much thought was applied while preparing them. Big teams and names in Indian football, namely former champions Mohun Bagan, defending champions Dempo SC and the team to watch out this season- Prayag United plyed their trade in the capital on Fridays. The game was kicked off at 2:30 PM local time. One does not need to attend rocket science classes to understand that these big games, which could genuinely attract huge crowds to the stadiums, are being played out in front of only club officials, policemen and few workers in the stadium. Some fans do make the cut, but at some expense. The thought process behind scheduling of these matches is absolutely ridiculous,
What needs to be corrected?
Day and timings of these matches – it is quite evident from the response ONGC matches have got till date from the crowd in Delhi during their home matches, that if there are no changes incorporated in the fixtures, the future matches would also paint a bleak picture in terms of attendance in the stands.
Tie Ups with schools– it has been re-iterated a lot of times, that clubs across the country should try and grab the eye balls from grass root levels. ONGC FC, being an institutional side, could face difficulties in getting things done swiftly, but there is not even a trial dart thrown towards the board with this mission. AIFF never fails to disappoint when it comes to publicizing I-League matches, leave aside the prestigious tournaments. Football is fast catching up with kids in the city with a lot of children taking up the game at a small and growing age. AIFF needs to find ways to harness this interest in their favour. Sadly, all AIFF cares about is their 75th anniversary celebrations in the capital.
Media set up- In the name of media box, AIFF has arranged a seat and a table for the media people who have the guts to cover the match from the stadium at Ambedkar stadium. There is not even a power point for the laptops to charge while the matches are being played. The facilities are much better at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium located some distance away and holding the matches there or improving the facilities at Ambedkar Stadium would help attract more media personnel to the ground.
Not only the obvious question of how does AIFF plan to drive the growth of the game in the country is under the microscope, also the way they go about doing the minimum pre-requisites for a perfectly normal match to get conducted with sensible fixtures is also in sixes and sevens. It is yet to be seen that how many teams come to the capital, play and leave. One may speculate in the derivative markets, but one just simply can’t put their money on the I-league fixtures and it’s dates. Nobody is sure of that, but one thing which can be attested with utmost surety is that the Indian football fanatics in the capital are surely missing out on some good football.