Shillong, Jun 22: Yesterday’s washout of the Shillong Premier League match between Mawlai and Shillong Lajong was a stark reminder that the capital of Meghalaya, a city that has given the country three I-League teams, is desperately in need of a proper football stadium.
The match had to be abandoned after 61 minutes after torrential rain resulted in water logging across the entirety of the pitch at the MFA Turf, Third Ground, which is more than a decade old.
It is not normal for the SPL to be played here. Usually, the Shillong Sports Association holds matches at the JN Stadium or First Ground. However, neither of those two grounds can host any football at the moment.
First Ground, the SSA’s stadium, has not been used since the 2018 season. The association had, a few years ago, planned for a proper natural turf ground but that did not come to pass. Drainage here was an issue and actual grass never really took hold. It was then decided, under the leadership of the former SSA President Syntar Klas Sunn, to install proper drainage and put in an artificial turf. However, this was delayed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the sudden death of Sunn last year.
The state government, thankfully, promised to fund the artificial turf. At the same time, it went ahead with renovation work on the JN Stadium, which included the tearing up of that ground’s artificial surface – the intention here is that it will have natural grass to enable Shillong to host international matches.
Unfortunately, while work on the JN Stadium has gone ahead, we seem nowhere nearer to having an artificial turf at First Ground. The Sports & Youth Affairs Minister had, last year, said that work would begin by March this year. This led many (including TSR) to believe that he meant actual physical work but the minister, Banteidor Lyngdoh, later said that the paperwork would start by then (cue facepalm!). More recently, he apparently tried to shift the blame on to the SSA, saying that its hopes for a natural surface ultimately delayed the installation of the artificial one.
And so, we are left with no real football stadium in Shillong. Despite this, the SSA soldiered on and went ahead with the SPL at Third Ground, keenly aware of the need to hold it after a two-year Covid-enforced absence for the sake of the players and the fans. Third Ground has no stands but the SSA has tried its best to accommodate spectators (at no charge) by erecting bleachers and by livestreaming the games.
All its efforts may end up being frustrated, however, as the rainy season could lead to many more such abandoned matches.
It is certainly true that Shillong gets too much attention by the government in terms of sports and other infrastructure and more needs to be done in improving facilities elsewhere in the state. But for the capital city to be unable to host a decent football match is an absolute shambles.