CHENNAI: Football in Chennai, over the next couple of months, will mean Chennaiyin FC and all the hoopla that the Indian Super League brings with it. But smack-dab in the middle of the ISL, the city will host a series of matches that may have an impact on Indian football ten years later.
The city will make its debut hosting matches of the AIFF’s U-16 Youth League, with local team Mahogany FC set to face three teams from Bengaluru in a home and away basis. But Mahogany, the city’s and the state’s only team in the U-16 league, is scrambling around for a stadium to play in, with less than a month left for their fixtures.
“We are looking for a stadium right now,” club official Arindam Biswas told Express. “Our first choice would have been JN Stadium, but obviously we cannot play there because of the ISL. We also went to book the Nehru Park ground and were told we could not do so because Chennaiyin FC has taken it. Now we are looking at a couple of grounds in the outskirts of the city.”
Mahogany became the first team from the state to play in what was the U-15 league last year, but all their matches had been in Bengaluru. This year, AIFF’s new format calls for teams to play on a home and away basis in the initial stages of the tournament.
If Mahogany’s struggles to get a ground is an analogy for Chennai’s paucity of playable football grounds, their status as the city’s sole member in the league is proof that youth development is still not being taken seriously here. Of the 55 teams in fray, the majority are concentrated in the metros, with Chennai being one of the only exceptions. Delhi has the most with 10 teams, Kolkata and Mumbai have six each while Bengaluru has five. Even strife-torn Srinagar has three, as does far-flung Shillong. Chennai remains on the backbench with a sole representative.
The U-16 league will kick off on Saturday with matches in Kolkata and Shillong. All I-League teams are fielding youth teams in the tournament as are ISL franchises Delhi Dynamos and FC Pune City. Prodigy FC, based in Kochi, will be playing under the colours of Kerala Blasters as well. After the initial round, where teams play rivals from the same zone, the top 16 will qualify for the final round.