HOCKEY, cricket and soccer vied for a place on the city’s expansive open ground

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

Many files from the region’s colonial past describe the sprawling green of Mananchira Maidan with a water tank at one end. The maidan continues to be the city centre and today it gives space to sports, culture and recreation. In the Calicut of yore, if there was a place over which men haggled repeatedly it was the maidan. Men fought over it for their right to recreation and sports, some of those sports rarely played in the city today.

The circuses were elbowed out of the maidan by the European inhabitants, but that didn’t bring peace to those who used the land. Letters flew thick and fast in the early 20th century regarding the kind of games that could be allowed at the maidan and on who should be maintaining it.

By 1918, cricket, soccer and hockey were battling for their share of the Mananchira Maidan. H. Hadow from Parry and Co. shoots off a letter to both the Collector and Municipal Chairman, as he is unclear on whom the “rights of the ground are vested.” With too many claimants for the grounds, there were presumably talks of allotting it to different sports on different days. Hadow presents the case of his club Early Closers. In his letter to Collector F.B. Evans, he writes, “During the last four years my team has been by far the most regular users of the ground.”

Hadow also writes to the Municipal Chairman that various claims are being made for the use of the maidan. “The ‘early closers’ which is the hockey team I run, has been using the ground for the last three months on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I have spent a very considerable amount of money in getting the ground in order and fit for play and in doing so I have had great deal of assistance from the police. Conjointly, with the police I feel, therefore, that we have a priority claim over most others to the use of the ground.”

Many claimants

Hadow says that apart from the various hockey teams and players there were also footballers who were staking a claim on the maidan. He dismisses the claim of the footballers saying, “This year there has not been a single football match on the ground and they have merely used the ground for what is called a ‘punt-about.’” He says it is a “pity that the ground should be given up three days a week for what is not a game but is merely a practice that can be carried out in any odd corner.”

He also tries to get the upper hand by suggesting that footballers and other occupants of the ground like the Zamorin College hockey players were all basically school teams who would do better to play on school grounds. Hadow also argues that he played a crucial role in stopping the use of the footpath that runs through the centre of the maidan. “If there is any allotment of the ground to various teams for certain days of the week I beg to request that my claim may not be overlooked,” he writes.

Collector Evans answers that “the control of the use of the maidan rests with me” and he suggests forming a committee to formulate a set of rules that need to be observed by anyone using the maidan. His only condition is that “precedence must always be given to police parade, volunteer parade and public purposes for which I may require the maidan.” He also says he has the right to fix a fee for lending it out to schools or clubs if necessary.

Evans suggests the formation of a committee comprising the “district superintendent of police, Mr. Zachariah, Mr. Hadow, Mr. Hoare and Mr. Davey.” The committee members meet in November 1918 in the presence of Municipal Chairman T.M. Appu Nedungadi and draw a time table on the use of the maidan. According to their proposal, the Early Closers get to use it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the police on Saturdays, Zamorin’s College on Wednesdays, the Medical School and native high school on Mondays and cricket players on Fridays and Sundays.

By September 1919, the parties have reached an amicable solution. O.E. Windle, the Superintendent of Police, writes to the Collector saying that days have been “allotted to the various clubs who wish to use the maidan for sports.” A circular released in the same year gives A.F. Campbell, Hadow’s successor, the “responsibility for the ground.”

Source: Regional Archives, Kozhikode

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