Gokulam Kerala FC lose their home ground EMS Stadium; fans say politics is hurting sports

GOKULAM KERALA FC WILL no longer be allowed to play their home matches at the EMS Stadium in Calicut.

The former I-League champions and current three-time Indian Women's League champions have been playing out of this stadium for the last six years.

The EMS Stadium is owned by the Kozhikode Corporation who had signed a contract with GKFC which allowed them to make this stadium their home base. The club played a major role in repairing the stadium to make it fit to host top level football competitions, which it had not done since Viva Kerala FC shut down in 2012.

Photo Courtesy - Gokulam Kerala FC

This year, however, trouble seemed to be brewing between the Malabarians and the Kozhikode Corporation; as the latter undertook extra renovation efforts - which included a brand new pitch - to host the Hero Super Cup in April. During this time, allegations surfaced that the corporation authorities were not happy with the state of the stadium under GKFC's maintenance.

Here, it should be noted that the stadium saw almost no football action during the COVID-19 period of 2020 to 2022. Before that there had been no complaints from anyone about the condition of the stadium as the Malabiarians played four seasons of I-League matches at this venue.

While fans of GKFC and football lovers in general had hoped for a resolution between the corporation and the club, ultimately a deal was not reached and the corporatation decided not to renew its contract with GKFC.

Football fans around the country have expressed disappointment at this decision, given the unprecedented success GKFC have brought to Kerala football while playing out of this stadium. Gokulam Kerala FC are already the most successful club in the history of Kerala football, with six major national level trophies to their name (2 I-League titles, 1 Durand Cup title and 3 Indian Women's League titles).

Many have gone on to claim that politics is the reason why GKFC have been treated this way.

Interestingly, Kerala Blasters FC have also placed issues with the Greater Cochin Development Authority over the use of their home ground, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. There have even been talks of KBFC potentially shifting their base to Kozhikode's EMS Stadium. However, such a move would not bar GKFC from playing out of the same stadium as the AFC club licensing rules allow for a groundshare between two clubs (e.g. the Salt Lake Stadium is the home ground of both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. In European football, there are major clubs who share a stadium; notably AC Milan and Inter Milan in Serie A).

The response from GKFC management has been harsh, with the club ownership mulling a shift out of Kerala if they continue to be mistreated this way. However, the Malabarians still have options other available to them within Kerala; including the Malappuram District Sports Complex Stadium in Manjeri.

While it's not completely impossible for GKFC to resolve this issue and renew their contract with the Kozhikode Corporation - like Bengaluru FC were able to settle things with the Government of Karnataka and continue to use the Sree Kanteerava Stadium as their home ground, and FC Goa were able to regain their training ground at Salvador do Mundo after a panchayat official had it dug up - this seems unlikely at the moment.

With the next season of I-League still months away, GKFC have ample time to figure out a solution that would serve them and their fanbase well.

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