THE HALLOWED ARENA of Kolkata football, the Salt Lake Stadium (YBK), is undergoing renovations ahead of the 2017 U-17 World Cup. And this has led the city's two I-League clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, into a major predicament regarding the venue for their matches.
The state ministry, which owns the stadium, had earlier decided only one of the Kolkata Derby matches, to be held on 23rd January, will be allowed to take place in the YBK. The second leg is to be held outside the city - probably in Siliguri or Jamshedpur - since no other stadium here is built to cope with the high turnout the Derby match usually sees.
Mohun Bagan's first round of the AFC Champions League qualifiers, a match against Tampine Rovers on 27th January, is also to be held in the YBK.
But disagreement arose because traditionally in I-League the "home" club hosts the Derby and gets to keep the profit from ticket sales. The first leg of the Derby being a Mohun Bagan home game, East Bengal will have to miss out on their season's biggest-earning fixture since their "home" Derby has been moved out of the city to a stadium with a capacity much lower than YBK's 120,000.
To get around this problem, the state government's sports minister has asked the two clubs to unofficially join hands to host the Derby matches. This will see officials and personnel of both clubs work together to organize the Derby games, which has not happened in recent times. But this will allow both clubs to share the profits from both legs of the Derby and help ease over any losses.
Additionally, it was decided that the first match of Mohun Bagan, the season opener agaisnt Aizawl FC, will be moved to Barasat Stadium. It is at this very stadium that both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will play most of their home matches this season. Other stadiums were in consideration, including the Kalyani Stadium, but Barasat was chosen due to its shorter distance from Kolkata and being the only stadium other than the YBK to have floodlights.
The state government has promised not to repeat the scenario in the Calcutta Football League which saw police restrict the number of tickets sold for the Mohun Bagan vs Mohammedan Sporting match to 5,000. Even then, the 20,000 capacity Barasat Stadium, with its artificial turf and crumbling infrastructure that have not been renovated for ages, is hardly the first choice for the clubs, ever.