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With New Year come new hopes and promises. In case of Cooperage football ground, though, it has been a case of renewed hope and the same old promises. This year, the wait shall finally end. After nearly three years of delays and false assurances, Mumbai's only football venue will be operational again, come February.
Watching a football match at the Cooperage was more dangerous than delightful. The rickety stands at the traditionally uninspiring venue quivered at every step you took. There was a risk of it falling apart every time someone stood up and cheered for a goal. The hard surface with dry grass sprinkled across the centre circle was a torture on the players' knees and produced poor quality football.
Ironically, the lifeless venue continued to remain one of the most sought after addresses to hold wedding receptions. It still is. However, it's gotten slightly better for football as well.
The wobbly wooden planks have made way for sturdy steel stands imported from China. The yellow-and-blue patterned bucket seats add colour to the venue, quite literally, and a lush green artificial turf has replaced the natural surface. FIFA had granted $2.5 million (roughly Rs 12 crore) for the refurbishment of the stadium. But the falling rupee and bureaucratic delays have resulted in WIFA overshooting the budget by at least Rs 1 crore.
They won't mind that, though. Ever since Cooperage, the home of Mumbai football, went for renovation, the sport died a slow death in the city. With no other playable ground in the city, Mumbai-based clubs had to play their I-League matches in Pune and Kolhapur while the Elite Division league had to be scrapped twice. Mumbai Tigers, a newly-formed club owned by a Dubai-based NRI, pulled out of the I-League despite getting a direct entry because there was nowhere to play in Mumbai.
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