Passion for football is without parallel in the coastal regions.
Come to Nainamvalappu, a soccer-crazy coastal village here, and meet young ‘Neymars’ in the Brazilian yellow jersey, sporting the star striker’s hairstyle. One would also bump into teenage Messis, Ronaldos, and Rooneys. Certain streets, sporting flex boards with photos of soccer stars and flags of World Cup favourites, have already assumed new names. Thoppayil and Koya Road have been temporarily christened Brazil Bazaar and Argentina Nagar. The ‘fever’ is slightly more pronounced in the coastal villages. Observers and experts are not sure why. Football, says N.V. Subair, president Nainamvalappu Football Fans Association (NFFA), is a game of the common man. “One only needs a ball to play this game,” says Mr. Subair. Stories of legends such as Pele and Maradona catapulting from the poverty-stricken streets to the annals of great soccer history is something the commoner takes pride in. “Football is also a game where coastal residents, most of them are fishermen, can exhibit their vigour, valour, and masculinity in the field,” says Mr. Subair.
A smooth and grassy field near the sea, which can be easily converted into a football ground, is another reason for the game’s popularity, says P. Jayaprakash, himself a footballer from Puthiyangadi here. “There are nearly half a dozen playing fields abutting the sea at Puthiyappa alone,” says Mr. Jayaprakash. The game’s simplicity and eager participants propel football further here, he says.
Veena Mani, who is in Kozhikode as part of her research on ‘Football, Masculinity and Identity in Malabar,’ at the IIT Madras, says most people in the coastal region associate the game with poverty and survival. “They have stories of many a football legend to corroborate such an association,” says Ms. Mani.
The absence of financial support for any other game and lack of entertainment avenues are also cited by many as reasons for the region’s added emphasis on soccer. For them, love for football is not something that sprouts during World Cup. “Only that it peaks once in four years along with the Cup,” Mr. Subair says.