KOCHI:For football lovers, Monday will mark the realisation of a long-cherished dream - an exclusive venue for the ‘Beautiful Game’.
The newly-laid artificial playing surface has given the once-neglected Dr Ambedkar Stadium a new gloss. And when Chief Minister Oommen Chandy declares it open, the venue would open up a new window of opportunity for football development. Installed by FIFA at a cost of Rs 5 crore under its ‘Win in India with India’ project, the venue is the first-ever facility in the state to be operated by the Kerala Football Association.
On the eve of the inauguration, KFA president K M I Mather and secretary P Anilkumar were an excited duo as they oversaw the final arrangements.
“This is a huge step for Kerala football,” Anilkumar, a former Services goalkeeper, told City Express on Sunday.
“Simply because, this will be the first ground since the inception of KFA where we can organise tournaments and camps without running after anyone. It will enable KFA to seek more national-level tournaments in future. The dimensions of the field are the same as those provided for matches at Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium.”
While the Greater Cochin Development Authority has provided the ground with a tiled walkway from the entrance, another requirement of significance is a ‘warm-up’ area, space for which has been identified towards the eastern side of the premises. Once the practice area measuring at least 60 by 40 metres is ready, the floodlights would follow.
“FIFA has agreed to install floodlights free of cost if a training ground (which will be of natural grass) can also be prepared adjacent to the main field. The government has responded positively to the requirement and we expect a decision on that soon,” said K M I Mather, who is also a vice-president with the All-India Football Federation. Dressing rooms, gymnasium and an office space are also expected to come up alongside the training ground.
The biggest factor underlining the value of the synthetic turf is the low level of maintenance needed.
“The turf comes with a guarantee of 10 years. The company has also provided a machine fitted on a small vehicle that allows for a uniform spread of the rubber granules that keep the artificial grass intact. All we need to do is sprinkle water from time to time, especially before matches, to ensure a smooth roll of the ball,” pointed out Mather.
A Level Playing Field
1 While the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) is deemed as the owner of the venue, the land belongs to Kochi Corporation. The MoU signed between the KFA and GCDA states that the former will be in charge of all recognised football-related activities while the latter reserves the right to use the venue for staging football matches as part of its own initiatives.
2 Though FIFA recommends natural grass as the best option, for countries like India, who have historically struggled to maintain football grounds, the artificial surface is a boon. The big positive is that the synthetic field offers scope for round the year training, irrespective of the weather.
3 An exhibition match between SBT, Thiruvananthapuram, and Central Excise, Kochi, will be the special attraction on the opening day, with former stalwarts like I M Vijayan, Jo Paul Anchery and U Sharaf Ali among the invitees. Also expected are Indian Super League players from the state like Rino Anto, Anas Edathodika, C K Vineeth and Sushanth Mathew.
4 The field - 112 metres in length and 78 metres in width, with a standard playing area of 105 by 74 metres - has been prepared by Syncotts International, an associate of Italian turfing company Limonta Sport.
5 The immediate beneficiaries of the project would be Kochi-based clubs like Central Excise, who can use the venue for training. Kerala Blasters Football School, the grassroots development initiative of Kerala Blasters, is also set to begin training at the ground this week. Kerala Blasters FC, who had trained on the artificial surface at the Corporation Stadium in Thrissur prior to the ISL last year, themselves could use the facility.
6 “It was in the 1960s when an AICC (All India Congress Committee) meeting was held in Kochi that the playground, then a low-lying area, was raised to a proper level. That meeting, with Indira Gandhi in attendance, paved the way for the later development of the venue. A new road leading to the ground was laid. The gallery came up much later,” said KFA president K M I Mather, who was the convenor for the organisation of that fateful meeting.