The 131st edition of the Durand Cup reached the final stage with Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC slated to faceoff for the triple-crown of Durand Cup, the Shimla Trophy, and the President’s Cup on September 18 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.
Lt. Gen. KK Repswal, SM VSM, chief of staff Eastern Command and chairman of the tournament organising committee, ahead of the culmination of the oldest football tournament in Asia, said in an exclusive interview to News18.com, that the response to the Durand Cup has been “phenomenal, much beyond our expectations.”
He lauded the fans that showed up to watch the games in the stadium, especially in Imphal, Manipur.
Matches were held in Kolkata’s Saltlake Stadium and Kishore Bharati Krirangan, as well as Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium and Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium.
With an AFC Cup slot on offer and all 11 Indian Super League sides taking part, Lt. Gen. Repswal feels the standard of football was of a higher quality than in previous editions.
“All 11 teams, except for I think one or two teams probably, had a mixed of experience and youth. All these teams just before the ISL season starts, they were fortunate to get some good practice matches. Otherwise some of these clubs need to travel abroad to give actual practice match to the teams. But now with the Durand Cup, all the top teams being there, they’re all top teams are coming,” he said.
“So it’s a good opportunity for them also to get some really good matches before they start with ISL and definitely to help us improve the quality of football. The spectators get some very good matches and it draws more crowd,” he added.
When asked about the stadium attendances for non-home games in Kolkata, Lt. Gen. Repswal said that the Durand Cup committee is looking “to playing a certain amount of matches in Mizoram, Meghalaya, and definitely Manipur and Assam, apart from Kolkata for next year. The idea is to connect with the youth of North East India. The maximum number of footballers are from many borders around that area. So it will provide an opportunity for the footballers to play in front of their home crowds. We intend to increase the number of teams and the number of cities for the subsequent editions of the event.”
One debutant this season, Rajasthan United shocked everyone when they reached the quarter-finals ahead of heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
“Rajasthan United is just a nine-month-old club. Actually, they got an entry into Durand Cup as the two top-ranking I-League teams, that is Gokulam Kerala and Churchill Brothers were not ready to take part. So Rajasthan United got an opportunity and they made very good use of the opportunity. This will give a lot of confidence to other I-League teams. We are looking to increase the number of teams to maybe 24 or 28 so more I-League teams can take part,” Repswal said.
And not only for the I-League sides, but the four teams from the services got “good exposure” feels Lt Gen Respwal.
The Durand Cup announced that the Governor of West Bengal La. Ganesan, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande, and WB Sports Minister Aroop Biswas will be in attendance for the final.
The committee also announced that free tickets will be available from the Mohammedan Sporting Club tent from 10am to 5pm on September 17 as well as on September 18 till a few hours before the match.
The final day also has an elaborate closing ceremony planned by the organizing committee. Besides songs arousing patriotic fervour like Vande Mataram, Jai Ho, etc. which will be played by bands, there will be a thrilling Air Warrior Drill team performance. Fusion dance performances will include renowned martial arts from South India like Kalaripayattu, North-East fusions as well as the Bhangra from Punjab. There will also be the valiant Gurkhas, performing with their Kukhris.
“Both (teams) are extremely competitive teams. I would like to appeal to all the fans, especially in Kolkata that they should not miss two ISL teams playing in the final. Durant Cup came to Kolkata because we felt the city if the ‘Mecca of football’ in India, so the fans must prove that irrespective that none of the local teams not being successful in reaching the final,” he said.