OPINION | BY SOHAM MUKHERJEE
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) released I-League 2017-18 fixtures on Tuesday and all hell broke loose when it was found that the high-voltage Kolkata derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal has been scheduled for a 2 p.m. kick-off.
Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia was vocal about his displeasure over the timings and replied to a tweet saying," What a shame. I League deserves much better. Both leagues should agree and do well but not by killing each other (sic)."
Sanjoy Sen, head coach of Mohun Bagan, is also surprised to find a 2 p.m. kick off. Sen was quoted saying by Bengali daily Bartaman Patrika- "Supporters of both clubs come from far away districts to watch the derby. Now they have to start early in the morning to catch the game. Moreover, even if it is November, winter is yet to set in and people are sweating after mild running. It would have been better if the match was scheduled a little later in the afternoon.''
The marquee I-League clash held on December 9, 2012, which made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, kicked off at 2 p.m. Even in succeeding seasons the 'boro match' (Big Game) of Kolkata Maidan has been played in the afternoon with early kick-offs. If we turn the pages of history, Indian football has witnessed even morning kick-offs, during the 70s and 80s when football matches were played at the Eden Gardens.
Almost all matches in the premier division of the Calcutta Football League (CFL), where the two Kolkata giants ply their trade, started at 5 p.m. Fans flocked to the stadium and even on weekdays, houseful boards were hung when East Bengal took the field in the afternoon.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan officials had to arrange a giant LED screen outside the stadium and create a fan zone as thousands of Mariners refused to leave even when tickets were sold out.
Both the outfits have fan clubs spread all over Bengal and football enthusiasts from far-flung districts of Malda and Medinipur travel hundreds of kilometres to Kolkata to watch their favourite club lock horns with the arch-rivals.
They would find it easier to travel back home the same day if the match gets over by 4 p.m. It is habitual for travelling fans to spend the night at a railway station platform waiting for the first train at dawn to return home in the case of a late kick-off at 8 p.m.
The Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) is located in Salt Lake, which is far away from the bulk of the fan clubs present in Kolkata as well. Most of the supporters who comprise these fan clubs are students and people belonging to the lower economic strata.
To book a private cab during rush hours paying the exorbitant surcharge is simply not affordable for them. Although Kolkata boasts of a robust public transport system, the frequency of public buses come down to a bare minimum at 10 in the night.
Moreover, winter in Kolkata is as pleasant as it can be. The lush green Maidan during the afternoon remains crowded with young guns with football at their feet. The mercury will hover around the 25-degree Celsius, with low humidity and a gentle breeze, which provides a perfect occasion for an afternoon game.
The chances of players suffering from dehydration and resulting cramps are less in this weather, even if they take the field when the sun is at its brightest. FIFA implemented cooling breaks during the 2014 World Cup, only when temperatures soared over 32-degree Celsius inside the stadium.
I-League 2017-18 is set to kick-off on November 25, when Mohun Bagan will play away against Minerva FC at Ludhiana.