Mumbai suburbs set to enjoy Elite company

Mumbai's suburbs have always missed out on quality sporting action with the city's sporting 'epicentre' traditionally being South Mumbai. Most of the quality grounds and maidans are located there. However, with the Mumbai District Football Association's Elite Division shifted to the Poinsur Gymkhana in Kandivali, fans of the 'beautiful game' are in for a treat.

Workers mark the Poinsur Gymkhana Ground in Kandivali that will play
host to the MDFA Elite Division matches beginning on January 27.
Pic/Rane Ashish

 "To gauge the football following in suburban Mumbai one needs to simply visit one of the numerous rink football tournaments that are held here almost every weekend. The turnouts are huge. Considering this, I'm sure the Elite Division matches in Kandivali (beginning on January 27) will be a huge success," former India player Santosh Kashyap, who has lived all his life in suburban Mumbai, told MiD DAY yesterday.

Half of the Elite Division matches this season were played at the University Pavilion in Marine Lines, but at a huge price. "We were paying R8000 per day for the ground. So, we decided to move to the RCF Ground in Chembur, but there were issues there too, and since then the Elite matches have been put off for nearly two months now," said MDFA committee member Prakash Shetty, who suggested Poinsur Gymkhana as an alternate venue. Alongwith Elite Div chairman Hugh Fernandes, Shetty approached officials of the Kandivali venue, who readily agreed.

"We rarely give out our ground to third parties, but we happily made an exception in this case. There are loads of kids in the suburbs here, who cannot travel to south Mumbai to watch matches regularly and so miss out on quality football. The Elite Div in their own backyard, should serve as an inspiration to them," said Poinsur Gymkhana vice president Karunakar Shetty.

Kashyap felt this could be just the step needed to identify suburban Mumbai as an emerging sporting destination. "Until the 1980s, the bulk of Mumbai did not live beyond Bandra and it was not really difficult to travel from there to Churchgate to watch matches. But thereafter, the city has not only spread to Borivali but even beyond, until Virar.

"And it's really sad that there's not a single decent stadium in these parts. But once tournaments like this come here, I'm sure it wont be long before venues of international standard too come up in the vicinity," said the FIFA instructor and AFC 'A' level license older, who also coaches I-League outfit Air-India.

As if in answer to Kashyap's call, local MLA Gopal Shetty said: "Within the next two to three years, we will have world-class sporting infrastructure in suburban Mumbai. "For this, two plots of 13 acres each have already been ear-marked in Borivali."

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