Grounded: Maidan flooded, Kolkata football clubs in jeopardy

UNRELENTING RAIN IN KOLKATA has left its football teams in a massive fix over logistics. Clubs of all levels have had their match scheduling and practice sessions affected as a number of grounds in the city either became very muddy or became water-clogged. 

It's not just the small and big clubs based in the Maidan area that have ended up in a dilemma over the incessant pouring. Atletico de Kolkata are about a month away from ending their pre-season in Spain and start practicing in the city, but head coach Antonio Habas is keeping a keen eye on the ground conditions at the Salt Lake Stadium, which features a newly installed natural turf.

Although there is no water-related trouble at the YBK, due to the high-maintainance nature of the grass, teams are not allowed to practice on the surface on non-matchdays. So ATK officials are looking for alternatives, and this is where they are drawing a blank.

Since the matches are at night, Habas wants a natural turf pitch with floodlights to practice on. But none of the grounds in Maidan have working floodlights (only Mohun Bagan ground has lights, which have been lying dysfunctional for years). Barasat has floodlights, but its turf is artificial. This means ATK will have to book Rabindra Bharati or the Howrah Municipal Stadium which have lights, but other facilities like dressing room and gym are sub-par. And their pitches have taken a beating from the rain.

But the rain has done its worst to the Maidan area grounds. East Bengal Ground, which is supposed to host the Calcutta Football League encounter between East Bengal and Tollygunge Agragami on Saturday, has been partially submerged for almost a week. Even the club tent entrance is knee-deep in water. Practice sessions had to be shifted to another part of the Maidan for the first team, while the juniors and reserves have had some sessions cancelled, others held irregularly at with haphazard timings.

The biggest concern now is the sand which was laid onto the pitch a month ago to mix up the soil content. But the rain has now brought the sand up and created clogs of sands at various parts of the pitch, rendering it highly unsafe for players. Tollygunge Agragami are heavily opposed to playing at the East Bengal Ground on Saturday and are pushing to move the match to Barasat Stadium, which creates a headache for the organizers as well as broadcasters Star. 

The Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting grounds thankfully do not resemble small-sized lakes. But the rains and numerous practice sessions and pre-season friendlies have had ample impact on their turfs. Extra water has caused grass to grow extra thick, but that can be corrected.

What cannot be fixed quickly is the ground underneath; extremely muddy, slippery, wet, made uneven by the water and players running, sliding and falling on them. Once the ground dries up, these blemishes will make for an uneven ground with irregular bounce. Both clubs' coaches are concerned about this; Mohun Bagan gaffer Sanjay Sen wants to move all his team's CFL matches to Barasat.

The Calcutta Football League (Premier Division A) has already started. It's just a state league, but due to decent marketing and regular live telecast its popularity has grown. In recent times there have been efforts to increase professionalism in the ways the tournament is conducted; but problems like this are sending those efforts a few steps backwards.

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