Kolkata: Never in India had a football match ended a day after it had started. But ATK vs FC Goa created a new record, when the match began two hours and 43 minutes behind schedule that saw both the teams share the spoils in a 1-1 stalemate at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium on Thursday.
Such a record is more humiliating than being thrilled. But while any other big league organisers would have stepped up to the occasion, Indian Super League (ISL) failed miserably, pointing out that may be comaprison to other leagues is well far behind at the moment.
Beginning with the city half asleep, the match finally closed off when the city was in deep slumber, something that was new to both the experienced European campaigners Teddy Sheringham and Sergio Lobera. But while the former had no problem with the late kick-off, the latter was livid.
“Never in my life have I seen such a situation. The ISL is a great competition and it doesn’t deserve a match like today. I think the circumstances we faced in the past two days didn’t permit us to play today,” said the Spaniard with the help of an interpreter fuming with anger.
Expected to arrive in the city a day before the match, the ‘Gaurs’ ironically reached Kolkata barely an hour before the rescheduled kick-off, that had to be deferred four times and at 10:43pm the stadium pulsated with cheers from the 19626 fans that had waited patiently since dusk.
The situation of the league organisers was equally hapless. While a media release from the league at 4:58pm had said that the match will be delayed by an hour because Goa was yet to arrive, the stadium officials announced it will be at 9:30pm, before changing it to 10:15 and later 10:45.
The delay was inevitable. With no airline available to carry the 40 Goan contingent into the city, the club booked a chartered flight but were forced to make an emergency landing after the aircraft developed a technical glitch. The plan to arrive next day was then badly hit after the army controlled Dabolim airport was shut down following an air-force plane catching fire on matchday.
But what followed next was perhaps the most bizzare thing to have happened in Indian football. According to sources, two planes one in Jabalpur which is closer to Goa and the other in Delhi were kept in stand-by mode. But after the aircraft originally booked couldn’t be repaired, the flight in Jabalpur too was deemed not worthy to fly, which meant that the plane from Delhi had to first come to Goa, then carry the contingent to Kolkata.
Yet, for a competition monitored by the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) headed by a former Union Minister and IMG Reliance led by Asia’s most powerful businesswoman, Nita Ambani, such situations seemed to have capitulated more out of negligency rather than natural calamities.
Not ending here, the match also taught us how rules could be tweaked if needed. According to the competition rules, a kick-off can be delayed for a maximum of two hours after the scheduled time but there also lies a provision to extend it, if the home team agrees and ATK heeded to Goa’s request. After all it is not everyday one gets to face a team that had come to the stadium straight off the plane.
“The last two days was incredible,” said Lobera sarcastically. But more than pity for the ‘Gaurs,’ it was perhaps a big slap of India’s face as a host to those 11 odd professionals from abroad that had come to India not just to compete but also to develop Indian football.
While the Indian contingent in FC Goa team suffered equally, the overseas players’ condition was more heart-breaking. So was Lobera’s comments, “We spent entire day at airport, we had nowhere to rest nowhere to eat. We had to come here running because if we didn’t, there was a possibility of us losing three points to the opposition. We trained in travel gear and changed in five minutes.”
Not even in their dreams would have a football player thought of practising in travel kit, but Goa were forced to do the same, because their match kits were yet to arrive in the stadium even half an-hour after they have reached.
Perhaps so many such ‘never’ happened on that eventful day in the ‘City of Joy’ or perhaps we didn’t deserve to host them but probably what they deserved was a ‘sorry’ from us after all the ordeal they had to endure in the last 48 hours.
Does it end here, Lobera certainly didn’t think so. “It’s not just today that we are affected, it’s all the games that are coming up,” he said when asked about the circumstances they were forced to play in.
While much attempts have been made to bring Indian Football on level to it’s overseas counterparts, such ordeals points out that development and not levelling is the requirement at the moment. Much like Mohun Bagan’s official Srinjoy Sen’s comments, “perhaps such late matches are the new ways to promote football in India. Days are not far when we may see an early morning kick-off in Indian football.”