How times have changed since the first ever Federation Cup 37 years ago! Kochi has an international stadium and Mohun Bagan are not the hot favourites they used to be. ITI, Bangalore, the champions of the inaugural edition of India’s premier club football competition is not even in the picture!
While rains prevented the normally boisterous fans, back then, from filling up the temporary stands of the historic Maharaja’s College Stadium in 1977 when ITI pipped Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan (1-0) to the title, the fan following is not expected to be any greater when the 35th Federation Cup gets off the floor at the massive Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here on Tuesday.
For the country’s leading clubs, including Mohun Bagan, had played in the stadium two seasons ago to a very nearly empty stadium when the erstwhile Chirag United Kerala set up camp here for the I-League.
All the same, the football fraternity in Kochi is excited that the famous club tourney, though not at its healthiest of late, returns to the city for the second time.
It could well be the start of a hectic football season for Kochi with the All India Football Federation and the Kerala Football Association set to roll out new initiatives.
“It is good that the top clubs in the country are coming to play such an important tournament again,” said former international C C Jacob, who played for Customs and Central Excise in the maiden tournament.
“Back in 1977, the biggest attraction of the Federation Cup was that all the leading teams were playing together. Unfortunately, it happened during the rainy season. Hence, it was a rare event, in those times, that failed to attract huge crowds and endured financial failure,” he said.
This edition, the Nehru Stadium will host 15 matches including those in groups A and C, the semifinals and the final - slated for January 25. Current I-League champions Churchill Brothers, Goa are up against United SC, Kolkata in the opening group A match while local outfit Eagles FC meet Pune FC under flood lights.
Group C matches, comprising Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar SC, Goa, Mumbai FC and Shillong Lajong FC, kick off on Wednesday. Two matches are scheduled to be held on match-days, at 4 pm and 7 pm, during the league stage. The semifinals will be played on January 23.