Lack of craze for the game, restrictions on restaurants are reasons

With the FIFA World Cup having reached the knockout stage, the zeal for the world’s most popular sport is steadily, but slowly rising to a feverish pitch in Madurai. Football may not be a religion in Madurai unlike in cities such as Madrid, London and Berlin, where jerseys become workwear, but soccer fans in the city have memorised the schedule and have soccer tees of their favourite teams ready for the sport’s biggest extravaganza.

In fact, hotels in the city are leaving no stone unturned to attract fans with special theme-based menus and screening of games. A star hotel in K.K. Nagar has been beaming live matches every night from 9 p.m. at its roof-top restaurant on a large screen.

“Despite special offers, footfalls at our restaurant have not increased. The craze for this sport is not as huge as cricket in our country,” says P. Dinesh Kumar, franchise owner, Chopstix Restaurant, Vilangudi.

N. Mohammed Milhan, an entrepreneur, reminisces the last World Cup when he hiked to a 24x7 coffee shop in London to catch the action with his college mates around midnight.

“There were jerseys everywhere. Watching the game together with friends made the experience more exhilarating,” he says.

Cuing at why a popular spectator culture has not developed around football in Madurai, he says, “It’s because of the restrictions imposed on restaurants. There’s little opportunity here for fans to go out, dine together and have fun while watching the World Cup, as it happens in places like Chennai,” he adds.

Moreover, schools in the district do not encourage students to play football. It must be cultivated from a young age, Mr. Milhan says.

On the other hand, groups of fans in the city are making plans to host “World Cup viewing” parties to enhance their World Cup experience. N. Gautham Raj, a devoted soccer fan, and his friends are taking turns to invite people to watch the big event.

“The host usually provides snacks to the guests and plays some music. In a bid to spice up things, we also indulge in friendly betting,” adds Gautham.

Promotion

About 15 km away from the city, in Burma Colony, R. Papanasam Srinivasan, treasurer of Acme Football Club, is engaged in promotion of football through tournaments and live telecast of World Cup matches on giant screens.

“We have spent around Rs.40,000 for the arrangements. This was made possible due to the contributions made by hundreds of soccer fans in the village,” he says.

“We also plan to distribute pamphlets in neighbouring villages to pull in boys for the screening,” he adds.

Football lovers can attend the screening and also involve in the discussions that will serve to invigorate the excitement and create more suspense for the games that are coming up.

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