An amateur football tournament brought together working professionals of different ages on to the field, finds Sooraj Rajmohan

The match between Bayern and Manchester went all the way beyond extra time and into the final breathless moments of the penalty shootout. After having vanquished 10 other teams, these two gave no quarter as they took it to the wire before Manchester finally came through to win the shootout 5-4.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the stilted coverage of some fictional UEFA Champion’s League match, but an account of a game that took place at the Regional Sports Centre (RSC) at Kadavanthra. The match in question was the final of the ‘O Jogo Bonito’ (OJB) amateur football tournament, which brought together professionals such as models, doctors, lawyers, the old and young.

Started in July 2013 by Noel Ben, CEO of Bulldog Sports Ventures, the league began with the idea of giving amateur footballers, especially working professionals, a chance to play the game freely. “I’ve been playing at the RSC for a very long time, and while the facilities are great, on most days the small ground is filled with more people than it can accommodate. Being passionate about football , I wanted to do something that would give people the chance to play the game properly, and that’s how OJB came about,” says Noel.

The amateur league came together when Noel proposed the idea to other football lovers who frequent the RSC, and soon teams began to form. The first iteration of the tournament featured eight teams, with the number going up to ten and 12 in the recently-concluded third season. “The support has been tremendous. There are a lot of working professionals who used to play in their school and college days and are still ready given the opportunity. Since we have no age limit, there are players ranging from 16 to 51 years of age,” explains Noel.

The midfielders

This opportunity has been taken up gladly by the players, leading to some interesting dynamics in team composition. While Dortmund is composed entirely of college students, Roma is made up of High Court lawyers who also play for the High Court’s football team. Roma made it into the quarterfinals of the tournament, a fact Adv. Govind Padmanaabhan is quite proud of. “This tournament is a stress buster for people like us, and it gives us a chance to play often and stay fit. We had some injuries which caused us to make replacements but out of the 13 members who played in our squad, nine are lawyers. It was very well organised and a great experience to be part of,” he says.

“The tournament manages to bring together professionals from all fields,” says Noel informing that Shiyas Kareem, goalkeeper for PSG is one who walks the ramp often. “He has modelled at all Kerala Fashion Weeks and is a probable for the Lakme show this year. A senior orthopaedic surgeon from Medical Trust Hospital Dr Vinay and the HP Kerala Head Cinesh Sreedhar were some of the other participants. We had them all.”

Rynold Timothy, a regular at the RSC since the age of 10 and captain of the victorious Manchester team, says that the tournament has brought together different people and created a good blend of youth and experience. “I had played tennis here for years until an injury restricted me, so I turned to football. When we heard about the tournament we put a team together and reached the finals in the first season. In the second season we did not even get past the league stage and this time we made it all the way unbeaten,” says the 26-year-old, who works as a Junior Assistant at KSEB. So will he be back for season 4? “I’ll play as long as this team is around. Besides, we’re the defending champions!”

OJB is now slated to spread its wings and start amateur leagues in Bangalore and Pune by the end of the year. Noel believes that the interest in football is picking up all over the country and OJB is a step towards building a cult following for the sport similar to the position enjoyed by cricket.

TEAM SPIRIT

  • OJB matches are seven a side excluding the goalkeeper.
  • The matches last 35 minutes with each half lasting 15 minutes and a five minute break in between.
  • The 12 teams consisted of professional players, doctors, lawyers and models.
  • The oldest player was a 51-year-old former professional soccer player.
  • The youngest was a 16-year-old student.