The league was supposedly awaiting the completion of Chennai City’s new venue before finalising its fixtures, but weeks later its still not ready.

Chennai City FC, after having an above average season in last year’s I-League, were very jubilant on how the season went considering the fact that they had less than a month or two to put together a team and managed all the logistics almost to perfection. When the league concluded, talk of a merger between the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League was clouding the skies. This meant that ISL team Chennaiyin FC, who also use the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai  (JNS) will be staking their claim over it. With the talks of a merger put aside, it was decided that the ISL will run parallel to the I-League and this meant that only one team could use the ground. Since the financially strong team Chennaiyin came for it, Chennai City had to shift their sights to another location for their upcoming season.

Enter Coimbatore, the 2nd largest city in the state. Coimbatore had a huge football following in the old days when people used to travel from neighbouring states and cities to come watch professional matches. This football culture has slowly died down in the city and Chennai are hoping to breathe new life into it. 

With just three weeks to go for their first home game the pitch is still incomplete

The biggest problem that this relocating side had to go through was giving the JNS Coimbatore a face-lift. The stadium was in a sub-standard condition, the pitch was dreadful, the stands were not hospitable and Chennai City took over the stadium in a dilapidated condition. Notably, the club requested the authorities for delayed start to their home fixtures so that the renovation process can be completed in and around the stadium. 

Khel Now spoke to a top I-League representative when the fixtures came out a couple of weeks ago who told us that the release of the fixtures was delayed because Chennai City had requested the authorities for time to complete their stadium. This is quite a peculiar occurrence for the league to hold up the announcement of its fixtures because of one club.

When the club got to know that the they had to relocate to a new venue, they still had more than three months to go for the start of the I-League. You would think that is a good amount of time for them to bring an old stadium back to life. But, the lack of support from local goverment officials and the complaceny within the club has led to this haphazrd work being run down until the last minute.

The relaying of the playing surface has started just one month back and maintaing a ground as it is, is a laborious task but to begin relaying the pitch when you have just one month left is a clear sign of them pleading ignorance to the task at hand. For an up and coming club like Chennai with a supportive owner at the helm, this was quite unexpected. 

Talking about the state of preparations club owner Rohit Ramesh said, “We have invested 7.5 crore this season out of which 4 crore will be spent on upgrading the infrastructure. Primarily, we wanted to avoid a clash with Chennaiyin FC. We were exploring many Tier-II options and Coimbatore was our first choice as the AIFF had insisted on a location with an international airport.” 

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I-League team profile – Chennai City FC

The money that they claim to have been spent on infrastructure, so far has had little to or effect on the stadium as seen from the pictures below. No provision has been made for seating, or dug-outs and the stands are craving for attention. Chennai of all clubs should understand the importance of a home ground. Three out of their four wins in the I-League came at home. Their away record is abysmal and they start the new season with five away games on the trot before playing their first at home. At the moment, it surely does not seem like they are going to meet the deadline and they are setting a very bad example. 

Not just the pitch but also the stands are incomplete

All said and done, the I-League is one of India’s top leagues and the kind of respect that it demands is second to none. A good stadium stands to be the difference between a sell-out and a game filled with empty stands. Chennai City have been given quite a big responsibility of revoking the football spirit in Coimbatore. The club’s management needs to pull up their socks in order to maintain the standards of India’s top flight.

The perfomance on the pitch can only improve when you have good infrastructure to help the players. Until then, it’s all in shambles for Chennai City who are struggling to meet their deadline with their first home game against East Bengal looming closer with every passing day. 

*Written by Guna Sheelan