Long before cricket became the Kochiites’ staple diet, football used to be the favourite game of the city.
Many a football fan from the previous generation has a tale or two to share about how national and international players mesmerised them with their footwork as they closely followed proceedings from the cramped, makeshift galleries, made of casuarina wood, at Maharaja’s College Ground.
Perhaps it is the city’s rich football tradition, having produced players of the stature of C.C. Jacob, former Indian International footballer, and the country’s first professional club – FC Cochin, that has attracted football administrators and teams from around the world to the city.
A three-member team from the London-based Reading Football Club, which features in the English Premier League, was the latest to visit the city under the Grass Root and Youth Education Programme of the Kerala Football Association (KFA).
The team comprising Nigel Howe, CEO, Reading FC; Christopher Samuelson, director; and Suresh Malkani, director, India operations, held discussions with GCDA chairman N. Venugopal at his office on Monday afternoon. They also visited Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium, Ambedkar Stadium, and the site for the artificial turf sponsored by football’s world body FIFA at Kalamassery.
Mr. Howe said his club was willing to cooperate with KFA in developing football at the grass root level if quality infrastructure was made available. The club also agreed to extend its coaching and technical expertise to a football academy to infuse the European culture of nurturing talent from a young age. The club officials, however, declined to divulge more details saying it was only their first visit and wanted to see what the city had to offer.
Mr. Venugopal said the team was impressed with the facilities at the Ambedkar stadium and international stadiums in the city.
“They said they were looking for training facilities for a proposed academy and a venue of international standard for hosting matches. We told them that we could at best be a facilitator for making available land for infrastructure development for which an agreement could be entered into. The team left with the promise to return with detailed plans.”
Anil Kumar, KFA general secretary, who accompanied the delegation, said the club expressed willingness to set up a football academy for budding football talent if necessary infrastructure was provided. “They were impressed with the Ambedkar stadium and are interested in developing it into a training facility. They were also positive about taking young talent from the proposed academy here to their parent academy and facilitate their training with scholarship.