Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same. At a time when the Indian Super League (ISL) brings with it the promise of improved conditions for football at the grassroot level, tournaments like the Mumbai University's inter-college competition provide a harsh reality check.
Pitch imperfect: The quarter-final match between St Andrew's and KC College yesterday. The semi-finals and final will also be played on this dust bowl. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Yesterday, the quarter-finals of the varsity tournament were held at Goregaon's Anna Bhau Sathe ground, which can only be described as a dustbowl of a pitch.
The undulating ground was strewn with pebbles which made playing football on the surface almost impossible. The area around the pitch too was lined with several stones.
A player patches up a teammate after their league match at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground at Goregaon on Saturday. Pic/Satyajit Desai
"The pitch was bad, but you can't expect more. That's Indian football for you," a player with a South Mumbai college, who did not wish to be named, fearing the wrath of the University, told mid-day.
"This is cruelty to the players. If parents see their kids playing here, they will stop them from playing the sport," lamented a football coach, whose team was knocked out in the league stage.
A Guru Nanak player changes after his match at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground. The official 'changing room', which was not functional, can be seen in the left. Pic/Satyajit Desai
"When the University has its own ground (University Pavilion in Marine Lines), why does it need to conduct matches on a municipal ground," wondered St Andrew's College's Director of Sport, Ram More.
The pebbles at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground, besides making play difficult, also posed an injury hazard.
The pebbles at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground where the inter-college football tournament of the Mumbai University is being held. Pic/Sqatyajit Desai
What's more, the ground, which will host today's semi-finals and the final later, did not even have basic medical facilities like a stretcher to ferry an injured player, let alone the presence of an ambulance.
Only a basic first-aid kit was made available with the organisers doubling up as medical attendants.
Debris lying on the Anna Bhau Sathe ground on Monday. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
This lack of medical expertise could so easily prove to be fatal. On September 19, during a match between KES College (Kandivali) and SPDT College (Andheri), a SPDT player fainted following a collision with an opposition player and was taken to a nearby hospital in an autorickshaw after half-an-hour's delay.
This oversight on the organisers' part has caused concern even among referees.
Football players of Thakur college hold a team meeting at Anna Bhau Sathe ground at Goregaon on Monday. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Walter Pereira, chairman of the Western India Football Association's Referee Board for Maharashtra, explained: "No matches anywhere in the world can start without proper medical facilities on the ground for players. At least a person who is medically qualified should be present.
A St.Andrew's player falls on the Anna Bhau Sathe ground after a collision with a KC College player on Monday. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
A stretcher or an emergency ambulance has to be there at the ground. Ten days ago, a player fainted during a match. The match had to be stopped for two hours as both teams refused to play any further because of the lack of medical facilities.
The game resumed following the referee's intervention. One of my referees then wrote a letter to the University officials about the lack of medical facilities, but they refused to accept the letter because the protest was made on an ordinary piece of paper.
Players change in a shamiana which doubles up as a changing room at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground even as a girl walks past them. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
It is their (University officials') duty to take all precautionary measures. Players' lives are more important than the game. Football cannot be run this way."
The players and coaches were also infuriated by the absence of toilets, changing rooms and hygienic drinking water facilities at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground.
Some teams like Thakur College brought their own supplies of water at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground. Water was provided at the ground by the organisers Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
While an open shamiana has been erected at the side of the pitch to be used as a changing room, a water container was made available only yesterday after players threatened to walk off.
Meanwhile, a mobile municipality toilet also appeared on the ground for the first time yesterday. However, the players were not aware of it. And those who were, stayed away from using the stinking urinal and preferred to relieve themselves in the open.
Some players chose to relieve themselves in the open despite the presence of a mobile toilet at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground. The players said the portable toilets were stinking. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
The scheduling of the matches also raised hackles among coaches with some questioning why their teams were playing as many as four 90-minute ties in five days in temperatures exceeding 37 degrees celcius with unbearably high humidity levels, that too at a time when players are in the middle of their semester exams.
Renovation on at University Pavilion: Kendre
On being questioned about the players' safety at the Anna Bhau Sathe ground, Dr Uttam Kendre, Mumbai University's Director of Sports, said: "We have made arrangements for a first-aid kit at the venue.
Vidya Vikas Universal College, which is organising the football tournament, has also contacted a few hospitals in the area." Kendre, however, could not recollect which hospitals were contacted and argued that no player had fainted during the tournament.
Kendre also claimed that matches were being held at the Goregaon venue due to renovation work in progress at the University Pavilion. "We could not host matches at the Marine Lines ground as there is some work going on there. For safety reasons, we are not hosting matches there.
What if something happens to the players? We did have some of the league matches of the tournament earlier here as there was no work happening at the venue then." With regards to the cramped scheduling, Kendre said: "We are giving a day's gap after every two games."
Other venues were equally terrible!
In the league stages, the tournament was held at two other venues in the city — Mithchowki in Malad and Somaiya hospital ground in Sion — besides the Anna Bhau Sathe ground. Both venues were not up to the mark.
The Mithchowki ground in Orlem, Malad that hosted 14 preliminary knockout matches was too small for the teenagers. "The ground at Mithchowki is conducive for seven-a-side football matches only. It sometimes hosts inter-school matches for the U-12 age group.
In the last 25 years that I've been in Orlem, I've never seen a competitive 11-a-side match for adults being played here because the ground is just too small. There are also absolutely no drinking water or sanitation facilities at this venue," said Ronnie D'Souza, owner of local outfit UK Football Club.
Sion's Somaiya hospital ground, which hosted 46 matches, had its own share of problems. "The ground is too small for 11-a-side matches and there is hardly any fencing around it.
So, during our matches the ball kept going outside the ground every five minutes and a lot of time was spent by our boys having to go out themselves and retrieve the ball from the thick bushes at the periphery," said Martin Fernandes, coach of Siddharth College.
"I don't understand how the University authorities could give a go ahead for the Sion ground. That ground was unplayable. They hold prayer meetings and political rallies at this ground," seethed a coach, who did not wish to be named.