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Goats, grass and ‘mini halves’: Subroto Cup in Pune exposes grassroots football apathy

City round of Subroto Cup currently being played in Pune. Boys’ matches being played at Pune District Football Association (PDFA) ground in Dobarwadi in conditions that bewilder. Grass on the ground so thick that the ball does not even move through in those patches.

pune Updated: Aug 06, 2018 13:47 IST
Pranav Shahney
Pranav Shahney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Subroto Cup,football,PDFA
The PDFA ground in Dobarwadi is in very poor condition affecting the Subroto Cup games being played in the city. (Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

Pune Since 1960, the Subroto Cup has been deciding which school in India is the football champion of the country. Every school in every state has the chance to take part with the winners from every state participating in the national finals, now with some international schools also being invited to take part in the all-India finals in New Delhi.

Ii is easily India’s most prestigious and oldest national school football tournament. The Subroto Cup website bills the tournament as “Asia’s biggest youth football tournament”.

The city round of the Subroto Cup is currently being played in Pune. The boys’ matches are being played at the Pune District Football Association (PDFA) ground in Dobarwadi in conditions that bewilder.

There is grass on the ground so thick and dense that the ball does not even move through in those patches.

While playing conditions may be far from encouraging for any quality football, the length of each match is decided arbitrarily. At least five matches that HT tracked were in the 15-minute each half range. A normal football match is 90 minutes, 45 minutes each half.

The tournament is played in the under-14 and under-17 age group categories, but on a ground where the ball does not move and with ‘mini matches’ in progress, is this really India’s top school football tournament?

Subroto Cup is run centrally by the Air Force Sports Control Board’s and has 34,000 schools competing. At the city level it is managed by the Zilla Parishad under the district sports officer (DSO). Despite repeated attempts to contact the DSO, HT’s phone calls and SMSes were not answered.

Pradeep Pardeshi, secretary of PDFA, believes he is doing everything he can. “The quality of labourers is far from spectacular. However, I feel the claims made of the ball stopping to be untrue. If that was the case I would’ve attended to it immediately.”

Under-17 teams currently playing the tournament have employed a strategy of avoiding attacks from parts of the pitch where the grass is too thick. It’s a game that often resembles just a shadow of the total expansive football that schools competing in India’s top tournament.

Preetam Mamani, head coach of Orbis School, said, “What PDFA can do is cut the grass that is overgrown. Because there are patches where it’s so high it is difficult to get the ball to travel, it becomes almost impossible to play in such conditions. There are so many schools coming to play and there isn’t enough space for all of them to sit and watch other games.”

Vibgyor High School’s coach, Savio D’Souza, said, “To be honest I cannot wait to get out of these 15 minute halves. We aren’t in the 1980s that matches can be wrapped up so quickly. The players need at least 25-30 minute halves as that paints a better picture of the game has panned out. I’m a part of the All India Coaches’ Association so we are planning to approach the federation to scrap this system. We want to see players from Pune to make it big and it will not be possible if things are allowed to continue.”

On Sunday, after the final game of the evening, a number of goats (not to be confused with the social media acronym GOAT - greatest of all time) were let into the stadium and began grazing on the centre of the pitch, making the playing surface extremely uneven.

Pardeshi said, “There is nothing we can do about it. Due to neighbouring slums, their animals need a place to graze. Also, with the ground being open from one end, the animals have an easy pathway onto the pitch. In our presence if there are any animals, we scare them away. The Zilla Parishad also needs to help maintain the ground.”

Vinay Nagesh Konadumuri, 17, has been a referee with the PDFA for the past three years. One of the six on-field officials in the Subroto Cup at the Dobarwadi ground, Kondamuri believes that the conditions are improving and despite the difficulties faced by players things are on the rise for football in the city.

He said, “Earlier the grass used to be longer than this, but at least now they’ve trimmed it and the players can have a good game. We had even put fences to stop the animals from coming in, but they’ve broken them to trespass. However, the conditions at Don Bosco are better where the girls’ edition of the Subroto Cup is taking place.”

Subroto Cup is run centrally by the Air Force Sports Control Board’s and has 34,000 schools competing. At the city level it is managed by the Zilla Parishad under the district sports office (DSO).

First Published: Aug 06, 2018 13:47 IST