Corporation rules

Corporation Stadium, Kozhikode... rated the best venue in the country by the All India Football Federation.-

DURING the last seven years the Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode constantly used to be in the news. But, it was not at all for the right reasons. The city's only stadium seemed poised to enter the record books for taking seven years to complete its renovation. The Kozhikode Corporation authorities received flak — not all of it undeserved — from all quarters: the press, football players and fans.

Recently, though, the stadium did enter the record books for a good reason.

It bagged the first ever award instituted by the All India Football Federation for the best venue of the ONGC National Football League (NFL). The stadium was chosen ahead of some better known grounds of Kolkata, Goa and Mumbai because of the quality of the ground — rated as the best in the country by a visiting team's coach — state-of-the-art medical facilities and the support from the local fans.

The first three matches of the NFL had, in fact, attracted sell-out crowds. For SBT's first home match, against defending champion East Bengal, there were more than 10,000 people standing outside the stadium, after the tickets were sold out. When was the last time that happened for a game of football in this single-sport country?

"Winning this award means a lot to us," said A. V. M. Ashraf, secretary of the Kozhikode District Football Association, which hosted the matches. "We are delighted that we won such an award for our efforts in the very first event we hosted after the stadium was reopened. Of course, it would've been nice if more people had come to watch the matches in the second leg of SBT's home matches as well. I think the football supporters of Kozhikode were disappointed with the poor show of their team in the NFL."

Indeed, the sparse crowds of the last few matches reminded one that it was indeed the NFL that was in progress, and not some cricket match. But, still, the Corporation Stadium topped the gate collection in the NFL. It collected Rs. 23.8 lakhs from the 11 matches, 40 per cent of which goes to the home team. SBT therefore became richer by Rs. 9.5 lakhs. Not bad when you end up 12th in a competition featuring 12 teams.

In fact, everybody made money. The Kerala Football Association got Rs. 7.14 lakhs out of the gate collection and the KDFA also got Rs. 7.14 lakhs.

The big crowds may have surprised a few visiting teams, but Kozhikode has always been famous for its love of football. Surviving without football must have been difficult for the city's soccer fans.

"We had originally planned to complete the reconstruction within 18 months," said Kozhikode Mayor Thottathil Raveendran. "It was delayed because of many reasons, but we were determined to get it ready for the NFL this season and we had to work overtime to make it possible.

Now, I'm happy that the stadium is recognised as the best in India. But we want to make it even better.

We will soon be installing floodlights and we have signed an MoU with the Kerala Government for laying a synthetic track. And we hope to conduct more major football events this very year."

Ashraf says that reviving the Sait Nagjee All-India tournament — which was once one of India's major annual events — is a priority for the KDFA. "We are also planning to hold an international women's tournament later this year." — P. K. Ajith Kumar