Before the inaugural season of ISL, Greg Gillin, who is responsible for the facilities at Wembley, one of the most popular stadiums in Europe, was assigned the task of refurbishing the Balewadi stadium in Mhalunge, which was the home stadium for FC Pune City.
Gillin did his job well and Pune got a pitch; better than earlier, even though it didn’t match the high Wembley standards. The entire pitch was carved out and replaced with top quality international level grass.
However, despite the overhaul and signing of top international players like David Trezeguet and Jermaine Pennant, the team finished sixth in the league of eight.
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The second season of FC Pune City kicks off at the same stadium October 5 and though the team certainly looks stronger on paper than last year, doubts can be cast over the improvement of the pitch and the facilities at the stadium.
The responsibility of the maintenance of the ground lies with FC Pune City, according to the ISL. Speaking about the ground, Leeladhar Singh, the ISL spokesperson said, “Last year, we did many things at Balewadi including mowing, aeration, planting new grass and top dressing, among others. In fact, we provided these facilities to all eight stadiums. However, we had made it clear that from the second season, it is the club’s responsibility to look after the stadium.”
Singh adds that according to him, FC Pune City has made tremendous progress since the last season and their growth, in terms of creation and development of a fan base, is much more impressive than the lack infrastructural growth. “They have an official fan club in the form of Orange Army and they’ve started building a special stand for their fans,” said Singh.
FC Pune City CEO Gaurav Modwel also reiterated that the club’s main aim is to build a club that is centred around fans, before stepping up. “We are trying to attract as many fans as we can to the stadium. A great infrastructure without loyal supporters is not what we’re aiming for. We have special offers for fans like early bird offer for season passes, My City My Club for bulk bookings of school, corporates. Apart from this, we are organising meeting sessions between fans and players,” said Modwel.
With players like Adrian Mutu, Tuncay Sanli in attack; Didier Zokora and Eugenson Lyngdoh, the costliest domestic player, in midfield and experienced centre-backs Roger Johnson and Diego Colotto in defence, Pune look like they have an upper hand in the opening fixture against Mumbai, with the latter’s marquee player Nicolas Anelka also conceding that the game will be a tough one for Mumbai.
However, Pune’s coach David Platt is keeping his opinion private. “Every team is worthy of winning the league, so everyone starts as favourites,” says Platt.