A small patch of land, a clearing, surrounded by tufts of grass and an occasional tree. Shouts in the local slang are heard now and again, accompanied by constants thuds. A closer view reveals a dozen local lads scattered over the brown expanse, each animated and mobile, with just one goal in mind. Welcome to a quintessential Kerala town or suburbs and chances are you see a similar sight somewhere.
Football is been the most popular game in the God’s Own Country. The Beautiful Game for a beautiful land. Lovers of the game use every free plot and patch to indulge in their favourite past-time of kicking a ball. If you grew up in Kerala you just cannot help playing the game. Kerala, five time winner of the Santosh trophy, is one of the few states in India where cricket is not exactly what captures a sports enthusiast’s imagination the most.
Schools are almost always the cradle of the game for most young lads. When I was in school in southern Kerala, boys in our class, some twenty of us, used to play on the school ground at every opportunity we could find. Lunch breaks were a flurry of activity as we would shove down our lunch in a hurry and run as fast as our feet would take us to the ground. Then it was half an hour of running, jumping, sliding and of course, kicking. There would be at least another twenty five classes playing football on that ground. Five hundred people and two dozen balls filled that ground, almost giving that rectangular piece of land an aura that is unmatchable and one I have not been able to find anywhere else. We would return back for the afternoon classes dirty, dusty and sweaty, tired as lactic acid coursed down the muscles that had just been involved in frantic activity. The general chatter was filled with discussions about the fortunes of popular football clubs across the world. Supporters bragged about their clubs to the hilt as statistics and strategies are bandied around.
As the football world cup approaches, Kerala is yet again buzzing with speculations and predictions, a general excitement filling the air. Soon, huge flux boards of popular football stars will rise along the roads and roadside tea stalls will have the local pundits extolling their wisdom for one and all, free of charge. Locally made imitations of football jerseys of the favourites flood the markets and you know that football fever is here.
Poor showing by the state team in recent editions of the Santosh Trophys and lack of success of clubs from the state in the national league has resulted in football suffering a dent in popularity and appeal. However, the game is surging back into the people’s minds and hearts after a decent show by the only club from Kerala, Viva Kerala, in the I-League. It will take more than a few setbacks to dampen the spirits of the football lovers of Kerala. The Beautiful Game shall continue to thrive in God’s Own Country.
Aju Basil James
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eeko/3758915156/]