|PALZOR STADIUM OF GANGTOK,SIKKIM|
Sikkim sports secretary Karma P. Bhutia said an exhibition soccer match would be played between the United Sikkim and an I-League club on the inaugural day.
The United Sikkim club, co-owned by Bhaichung Bhutia, is presently taking part in a competition in the second division I-League final round in Shillong. The contest will end by the third week of May.
“Work for laying the artificial turf at Paljor Stadium started from January 1 and the project was completed at the end of April. This is the fourth stadium in the country to have an astro-turf after the stadiums in Goa, Calcutta and Aizwal,” said Bhutia.
The sports secretary said with the the artificial turf at the stadium, football lovers of Sikkim and upcoming players would have a lot to cheer about.
“Till now there was a lack of ground for footballers to play or practise in Gangtok. With the artificial turf, which can be extensively used as compared to natural grass and requires zero maintenance for a minimum of eight years, they can practise freely and we hope that a lot of talent will come out in coming years,” he said.
The artificial turf cost Rs 3.77 crore.
According to Bhutia, apart from football, other sporting activities like taekwondo and handball, which do not damage the pitch, can also be held on the artificial surface.
He said the sports department would issue identity cards for sportspersons to avail themselves of the facilities at the stadium.
The artificial turf had been a pending demand of football lovers here as the natural grass pitch at the stadium had been deteriorating over the years.
“I am not a great fan of the artificial turf but Gangtok requires an artificial turf because there is not enough space for footballers to play. You don’t have much time to play in a natural grass pitch as it would require maintenance but you can have football during the whole year on an artificial turf. Maintenance is also easy and we needed an artificial turf simply because of space constraints,” Bhaichung said over the phone from Shillong.
Although no formal invitation has been extended to his club, also known as the ‘Snow Lions’ club, to play on the inaugural day, Bhaichung said he was always ready to support the state government and be a part of the opening day festivities.
“Given a chance I will be happy to play in the ground in which I grew up,” said the footballer, who used to play on the ground when he was a school student. The ground had a sandy pitch and used to be known as Polo Ground then.
It was during one of the matches at the Governor’s Gold Cup at the stadium that the teenager was first noticed and picked up by East Bengal team.
The Paljor Stadium will also be the home ground for Bhaichung’s club which is currently in the third position in the second division of the I-League final round behind Shillong Lajong and Vasco FC.
“We are planning to hire the football pitch for our club. We will be requiring the pitch for two hours daily for practice,” said Bhaichung.
He said the sports department could set up floodlights and construct roof over the gallery on the hillside to make the stadium more appealing.
When asked about how the artificial turf would promote football in Sikkim, Bhaichung said: “I am sure it will benefit better than grass where you cannot allow play everyday. But with astro-turf there is an opportunity to play every day and it will benefit all.”