The dark clouds hovering over Indian football failed to dampen the spirit of the Durand Cup, as the 131st edition of Asia's oldest tournament of the sport kicked off with much pomp and fanfare at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Tuesday. (More Football News)
With West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, as chief guest for the one-and-hour-long opening ceremony, security was beefed up at the VYBK stadium much before the match started.
While the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) suspension by the sport's world governing body, FIFA may have far-reaching consequences, with the country set to lose the hosting rights of the U-17 FIFA Women's World Cup slated in October, the festive atmosphere during the Durand Cup opener revealed very little about the sombre reality.
For the first time in the tournament's history, 11 Indian Super League (ISL) teams will be among 20 others, who will be vying for the top honour.
The tournament also features five I-League clubs and the rest four from the Armed forces.
"We are really sad for the ban but football can't stop, so we are here in full strength to support our team. I'm sure better things will prevail soon," said a Mohemmedan SC fan.
However, the Indian Football Association secretary (IFA) Anirban Dutta seemed a little worried over the FIFA ban.
"Not just the U-17 Women's World Cup, the AFC Cup Inter-zonal semifinal match of ATK Mohun Bagan too will be affected," Dutta told reporters here.
"This will also have a negative impact on the I-League, ISL and also the players. Clubs won't be able to sign any foreign players. I just hope that it's restored soon," he added.
The ban is a first in AIFF's 85-year-old rich history and FIFA has said the transgression constitutes a serious violation of its statutes.
"Many clubs and players will suffer because of this. If the ban is not lifted, the U-17 Women's World Cup won't happen and our semi-final also remains a cloud of uncertainty. We can't even sign players," Mohun Bagan secretary Debasish Dutta said, terming it as a "black day" for Indian football.
"Those who are responsible for bringing the sport to disrepute should be penalised. We hope in the SC hearing tomorrow everyone keep their ego aside, sacrifice their chairs (posts) and save Indian football," he added.
Having qualified to the main round earlier this year, India are also slated to play the AFC Asian Cup next year and the suspension will jeopardise the national team's chances.
"It's not a joke. We should have given a thought to it. But we are hoping for the best," former footballer and Mohun Bagan legend Satyajit Chatterjee said.
Stating that Indian football needs a clean-up, former Indian goalkeeper Sandip Nandy said bringing in players into administration is the key going forward.
"Why are we not giving importance to ex-players? Look at the BCCI, Indian cricket is run by (Board president) Sourav Ganguly and we also have the legendary Rahul Dravid as the head coach. That's the way forward in football too," Nandy said.