Kolhapur and the unfulfilled I-League dream

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    Kolhapur

    The I-League 2021-22 season kicks off from 26th December, where 13 teams will fight for a title to make their city & state proud! Meanwhile there’s a footballing city with a lot to offer but is not on the Indian footballing map due to various reasons.

    “The circumstance of Kolhapur can’t be summed up in one sentence. The game is stuck in the city itself,” said a source who requested anonymity.

    Back in the pre-independence, the game got support from Chhatrapati Rajaram Bhosale. Many local teams were formed and even competed against the British on many occasions barefooted.

    Post-independence, the game flourished even more.

    Eventually, the football matches were not only for ninety minutes but were played until there was any winning result. One of the matches between ‘Practice Club’ versus ‘Dilbahar Club’ went on for three days in the year 1960.

    We need to leave some things in past. Yes, the history we have is great & admirable. The present is giving us a good opportunity to move forward, but the mentality players possess is not acceptable,” the source added.

    Kolhapur
    (A snapshot from 2019)

    Currently, Kolhapur Sports Association (KSA) who is affiliated with WIFA (Western India Football Association), organises the football leagues & tournaments.

    Even the ISL players won’t play the number of matches we play here. The count goes up to 30+ matches in the whole season,” said a player who’s registered with the super group team. “We are lacking the proper guidance by the apex body.”

    Glimpsing the structure, the top eight teams are termed the “super group” clubs while the other eight are named as ‘A’ division teams. ‘B’ division usually consists of 22 teams, and around 80+ teams get registered for the ‘C’ division each year. The season runs from October to late May, which includes the official KSA’s league and other knockout tournaments.

    “The players here are promising in both physical and technical abilities. But, the structure we have don’t get comfortable with commercialization.

    In these many years, it hasn’t been adopted, which is vastly affecting both clubs and players,” says Vishwanath Bhosale, an avid football fan.

    Kolhapur won WIFA Interdistrict Championship three times in a row from 2018 to 2020. Meanwhile, the women’s team were also 2020 runner-ups in the same tournament.

    Kolhapur City FC was established back in 2018 with a vision to reach I-League. Indian Women’s League allowed growth but later, the pandemic disrupted their plans.

    Even what the match referees earn compared to the number of games they officiate is terrifying. “This is not a full-time profession for us. Our passion for football leads us to Shahu Stadium. The crowd, the prizes all seems like we are getting good income from this, but the situation is different. The pandemic has worsened the situation more,” said a referee.

    Rajarshi Shahu Stadium gets filled almost on all matchdays, which has a capacity of 16000. Usually, ten rupees is the ticket amount for a spectator.

    One of the leading football academy showed interest in arranging various grassroots programs, special trials and more. But as they looked and analyzed some things, they backed off.

    There are ways for Kolhapur’s crawling football to flourish again. The clubs, players, and even the fans themselves need to look where the actual problems lie,” said the source.

    A footballing city with big dreams wait impatiently for representation now!

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