A tournament crying for improvement

The victorious Indian Bank team. -- Pic. S. THANTHONI-

AS a concept, the Tamil Nadu state premier league is in keeping with the national Federation's objectives of popularising the game and improving the standard of the sport. That Tamil Nadu took this step three years ago is a matter for commendation, but then the development of the game has not been even in the state. Sadly, the state league reflects the great divide between teams of Chennai and the rest of the state. In a field of eight teams, drawn from the placings of the Champions club tournament held earlier, only two teams were not participating in the Chennai league. And as the latest edition, which was organised by the Kancheepuram District Football Association, revealed, only one non-Chennai league squad — CVRDE, Avadi — took part while Sun Club, Dindigul withdrew at the last minute. Expectedly then, the Chennai teams dominated and by the quarterfinal stages, the scene in the state league, conducted at the MIT campus in suburban Chromepet, was straight from the Nehru Stadium where the Chennai league is conducted.

It is not anybody's case that Chennai teams should not come up, but the state league would be a lot more meaningful if there was a certain balance in the competition, enabling the district teams also to stake a claim for the top honours. This can come about only if there is a major effort to bolster the strength of teams in the districts. How this can be done must be a major worry for the Tamil Nadu Football Association, which had once even experimented with a special provision in the Chennai league to include two district clubs. HPF and NLC were the teams, but this effort did not go far. While the HPF team wound up af<147,1,7>ter playing for a couple of years, NLC did not wish to accept the offer as it did not appeal to it. The irony is that the districts are not short of talent. But many of the young men move over to Chennai at the first opportunity and this discourages any serious exercise in club-building in the districts.

Mr. T. R. Govindarajan, TFA Secretary, a veteran administrator, admits that the issue is very tricky, a never-ending puzzle. "We had invoked the nativity rule, as the AIFF had done for the national championship, for the inter-district championship but even there the response was not encouraging".

Improving football throughout the state was the TFA's primary concern, but the Association finds itself in a situation where there is no sight of the end of the tunnel. One possibility that still exists is getting a sponsor to enable one or two teams from the districts to be part of the CFA senior division league. Only through participation in a strong competition can players improve, and in the current Tamil Nadu football scenario there are very little options otherwise.

Of the six teams — Indian Bank, ICF, AGORC, YMSC, TNEB and Chennai Customs — Indian Bank had an unbeaten run to retain the crown and successfully safeguard its reputation as the holder and also the only national league team in the southern region.

Among the others, mention has to be made of YMSC, a newcomer to the top division in the Chennai league and easily the most enterprising side in recent times. The young team made the semi-finals before losing to ICF in a touch and go encounter that went to the sudden death phase. YMSC lost but certainly impressed. ICF even in victory looked the odd team out because of the the poor behaviour of its players.

The malady became chronic in the final when several top football officials, watching ICF against Indian Bank, could barely hide their embarrassment.

Ironically, this should came about in a match involving two seasoned outfits.

It is time the TFA dealt with the matter with an iron hand, lest football suffers further in the state. So poor was the fare that barring the final result of Indian Bank winning by a 2-0 margin there was nothing of note. As always international Sabir Pasha, who these days walks in as a substitute, got the breakthrough and Amjad Hussain made the win doubly sure.

The Kancheepuram DFA needs to be complimented for the smooth conduct of the tournament.

Result: Final: Indian Bank 2 (Sabir Pasha, Amjad Hussain) beat ICF 0. — S. R. Suryanarayan