As you enter the Cooperage football grounds in south Mumbai through a rusted gate, it resembles an overgrown lawn.
The wooden stands of the viewers’ gallery were last renovated in 1949 and are crumbling from disrepair. The toilets adjoining the headquarters of the Western India Football Association (WIFA) emit a foul smell, as does the small canteen.
Santosh Kashyap, coach of the Maharashtra football team, and his players come here to train everyday for the Santosh Trophy, the senior nationals football championship that starts on July 15. “The condition of the ground is very good since no tournament has been played on it in the past month,” said Kashyap.
But facilities such as changing rooms and toilets are in poor state and there are no lockers. “To save football in Mumbai, it is very important to have a proper stadium with all the basic amenities at Cooperage,” he added.
Given the frenzy surrounding the on-going FIFA World Cup, it is surprising that the city’s only football stadium is in such dismal shate.
In November 2002, the WIFA, headed by aviation minister Praful Patel, put forward a proposal to redevelop Cooperage ground into a full-fledged stadium with dorm rooms, a seven-floor club house with 60 rooms, banquet halls, conference rooms, nine restaurants and even a beauty parlour.
A month later, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) rejected the proposal as the ground is in the coastal regulation zone (CRZ III) and no additional development can be permitted.
But in 2003, former chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde overruled the BMC order. Before construction work could begin, in 2006, the Oval Cooperage Residents Association (OCRA) filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court challenging the redevelopment plan.
“Under the pretext of building a football stadium, senior politicians leading the WIFA are planning to make a huge club like the Cricket Club of India (CCI) and Willingdon Sports Club, which is prohibited according to the Development Control Regulations”, said Jamshed Kanga, former municipal commissioner and one of the petitioners.
OCRA members fear that this will make the ground inaccessible to the public. The PIL is likely to come up for hearing this month.