“I was scared when the headlines (on the SC verdict) came. . . it affects you,” Chhetri said here on Friday. “But then when you go into it, you understand it is not that dangerous and things will subside.”
As things stand, fingers will remain crossed for some time. “I hope it is under control and the country doesn’t get a ban as that will be catastrophic for the country and especially for me. ” He admits he is at a stage of his career when he might just walk away from the field one day. If a ban happens, that day could be the day and he is not quite ready for it yet. In his own words, he is currently fit enough to battle with an Udanta Singh Kumman, 12 years his junior. He also admits, things happen at the snap of a finger – “just like our great singer (KK) I was fan of” – and any game could be his last.
With the SC coming down on Praful Patel’s extended tenure and removing him and his committee, the shadow of a Fifa ban looms. Although many feared the Asian Cup qualifiers, to be played here from Wednesday, might not happen, the fact that it is very much on would be huge relief for Chhetri and his mates.
‘No home advantage without fans’
The fear now is, however, of a lukewarm response for the matches, despite India playing at home after almost three years.
It was around four years ago during the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai that Chhetri had made a passionate appeal to fans to come to the stadium and support them. Amazingly, the fans had responded, fetching up in large numbers to root for India. Now, as Chhetri and India gear up for another tournament, will he be required to make another such appeal?
“In Kolkata would I need to?,” the veteran striker, who will complete 17 years as an international footballer on June 12, sounded a little surprised. “Here fans always come to stadium to watch football. This is one of those places where you feel special,” he said. “If ATK Mohun Bagan’s ISL match can draw 38,000 fans to the ground, I am sure an India game would have a decent number in the stands too.”
Chhetri’s optimism is, however, not shared by the organisers as only 12,000 tickets, all complimentary, have been put up for distribution. They perhaps, expect around half that number in the Salt Lake Stadium stands at 8.30 pm on Wednesday when India take on Cambodia.
However, he warned that without fans, India would lose the home advantage, which is so important in sports. “These three teams (Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong) have to feel the pressure when they play here in front of our home crowd,” he said.
The last time that India played an international match here, a pre-World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh in October 2019, a decent crowd had turned up. Although India flattered to deceive with a 1-1 draw, Chhetri feels Wednesday will be a different day.
Interestingly, just days ago, the Eden Gardens was opened up for full house for the IPL playoffs.