The coastal areas of Thiruvananthapuram district have produced some fine footballers who have gone on to represent the State and the country with distinction.
Valiathura, near to the Shanghumughom beach, was once the hub of football activities in the district, but rapid urbanisation saw the game take a back seat. But thanks to the initiatives of the Valiyathura Football Association (VFA), one of the oldest clubs in the coastal region, the beautiful game is taking centre stage once again.
Last year, the VFA, which was registered in 1972, rechristened itself as the Valiyathura Football Academy and launched a long-term coaching programme to train youngsters below 13 years of age.
“The idea was to provide football coaching to youngsters from Valiathura and adjoining areas of Vettukad and Beemapally and make them proficient enough to get admission to sports hostels run by the Kerala State Sports Council and to G.V. Raja Sports School,” said Jude Antony, the moving force behind the endeavour.
Forty boys were selected from around 265 children who attended selection trials in May last. The selected children are given coaching thrice a week at the St. Antony’s ground. The children are taught basics of the game and coaching is given by former Titanium player and international Salim.
After training, children are given light refreshments, and all the costs are borne by the VFA. Impressed by the work undertaken by the VFA, the Kerala State Sports Council (KSSC) brought the academy under its day-boarding scheme.
Now coaching has been extended to five days a week and the KSSC bears the dietary expenses of 20 trainees. The expenses of other 20 children are met by the VFA mainly through donations from well-wishers and football lovers.
“Four of our trainees have been selected to KSSC’s sports hostels and it is a good start. We have also started our summer coaching camp. The response is overwhelming. But the small ground is preventing us from taking more children,” said Jude.
Till a few years ago, Valiathura used to have a full football ground. But the advancing sea has eaten up most of the ground and reduced it to half its original size.
“We are helpless and it is something which we will have to live with,” says Jude.
The VFA will host a sub-junior football tournament (under-13) — the Ladder Cup — from May 4 to 19. The tournament will feature teams from all the parishes under the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Diocese. The diocese has plans to promote football in a big way and to start an international football academy in the near future. The present tournament will act as a trial to select trainees to the academy.
From Edison, who was the stormy petrel of the Kerala Police, to current I-league players Othelo Tapia and Shyjumon the legacy of the VFA continues.