Kochi Parade Ground’s rich history could be a hurdle for football

The Parade Ground's rich history – the famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama once lived next to it and the building is still intact – is now proving to be the biggest hurdle to its development.

The Parade Ground in Fort Kochi will be a training venue for the coming under-17 FIFA World Cup.   -  Stan Rayan

As he watched the Parade Ground slowly getting ready to be a training venue for this October’s under-17 FIFA World Cup, there was a touch of anxiety on Rufus D’souza face.

“Once completed, this will be a beautiful ground for football. It will be a blessing to the children here. I hope it is properly fenced and maintained well,” the 87-year-old, who has been coaching little boys for more than half his life, told Sportstar at the Fort Kochi venue on Thursday.

The Parade Ground, a lovely piece of land in Fort Kochi, had been an open ground for decades. Almost every sport has been played on this ground. There was also ample space for learning cars, cycles and motorbikes.

Now, with the World Cup stars expected here, Rufus and his boys have been trying their best to ensure that the ground is used only for sport.

“This place is packed with history. A year after he helped India win the Olympic hockey gold in 1956 by scoring the winning goal, Randhir Singh Gentle had come here as a guest for the National School Games,” said Rufus.

“This used to be one of the best grounds in the country. But now, we frequently see people coming in with vehicles and spoil it.”

To deter them, Rufus and his boys have placed long, old metal pipes and other things at various entrances of the ground.

Unfortunately, though the under-17 World Cup had promised to leave a lasting legacy for youngsters to play the game at all venues, the Parade Ground may not be a part of this plan.

The ground’s rich history – the famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama once lived next to it and the building is still intact – is now proving to be the biggest hurdle to its development.

“We will not have any permanent structure at the Parade Ground, we will have only containers there (which will act as dressing rooms for the World Cup players). Floodlights also will be temporary and though we will fence the other grounds, we cannot do anything of that sort at the Parade Ground. It’s heritage property, otherwise, people will not allow me to touch it,” said A. P. M. Mohammed Hanish, the Kerala government’s Nodal Officer for the World Cup here, on Thursday evening.

The floodlights and dressing rooms at the other venues will all be permanent structures.

“But we will raise the ground at the Parade Ground, have an excellent international football turf and finally hand it over to the sports people and the sub-collector of Fort Kochi who is the owner of the ground.”

Hanish and his team surmounted many hurdles before securing the Parade Ground for the World Cup.

“In Fort Kochi, we have just started off after so many issues. In both the grounds in Fort Kochi (the Veli Ground nearby is the other venue) we should be able to complete the work between April 30 and May 10,” said Hanish.

Hanish will have to convince the FIFA team, which will be here on Friday to inspect all the venues in Kochi, about that.

“But Panampilly Nagar and Maharaja’s Stadium will be finished before that,” said Hanish.

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