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His very being spells `football'

Transient interest in a game is usual. Kids take to cricket in one season, football in another. World Cup fever is a class of its own. But P Sudhakara Varma has body, heart and soul in football, which game he pursues and propagates, sans vested interests. K PRADEEP meets this simple man with a mission

EVERY EVENING, he cycles to the nearby ground, with a football on the carrier and a hand pump in tow. Do not mistake him for those soccer freaks that burst on the scene only when a World Cup is staged. He does not crave for attention like many who have the colours of their favourite side painted on their tonsured head or spending huge sums on creating cut outs of their idols. His interest goes deeper.

For P Sudhakara Varma, 51, football is an integral part of life. It is a very private, intimate passion. He never tries to flaunt it, though he can put some of the experts to shame with his keen observations and strong views on the game. And like any ardent fan he has his personal favourites and dreams.

Mr Varma is not bothered by the jibes when he pedals through the streets in his football attire, or the muffled calls of `Maradona... ' as he passes by. Very often he returns disappointed as most of the youngsters play truant. But Mr Varma is unfazed. He goes on to practise his shots at home, trying to keep in shape for an important game one day. "Sometimes we begin a game only to be joined by a crowd. Then it is around 20 in a side. You don't even get to kick the ball. Then the next day none of these youngsters turn up. None of them is really serious,'' bemoans Mr Varma.

Despite all this Mr Varma still spends a lot of money buying footballs and boots for promising footballers. Most of the youngsters never return, but this does not deter Mr Varma from his acts of generosity.

"I know what it feels when not allowed to play. I know what it feels when you have the desire to play but cannot afford to buy even a football," revealed Mr Varma, the motivating spirit behind Bhagat Soccer, the only football club in Tripunithura.

A member of the Kilimanoor royal family, Mr Varma always dreamed of playing football like the many greats of the game. "It was a huge joint family with very few female members. So, every day after school, we boys were assigned such jobs like sweeping the courtyard, cleaning the garden etc. Only after all this were we allowed to stray into the palace compound for our favourite game. The huge, half ripe pomelos were used as football as there was no one to buy us one." Later he got his chance to kick a real football when in school, where he was a regular member of the school, and later at the local club, Raja Ravi Varma Arts & Sports Club, Kilimanoor.

"Apart from these occasional games my exposure to this great game was limited to watching some of the top Indian clubs at local tournaments and those few matches that were televised. Satellite television changed all this. I realised the world of difference in the way football was played outside India," Mr Varma said.

Was he disappointed? "Of course there was a big difference in the training methods, styles etc. But I always believed that we could play the game as well as any of the greats. You see, there was that gem of a goal scored by Zinedine Zidane for Real Madrid in the European league final against Bayern Leverkusen. I can still show you how to shoot like that," Mr Varma gushed.

When the international football season is on, Mr Varma spends long hours watching all the televised matches. Most of them begin late and drift into the wee hours of the morning. He then makes notes of the significant moves and the goals. "On an average I watch around 1,000 matches a year. That includes league matches in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, the FA Cup, Uefa Cup and all that. This year we have the World Cup. A real bonus!" exclaimed Mr Varma.

Juventus is still his sentimental favourite. And in a symbolic act of solidarity to this Italian club, Mr Varma bought a Fiat car. For it was the Agnelli family, the makers of this Italian car, that contributed hugely to the success of this club. He is still in search of the famed black and white striped jersey, (worn by Juventus) finally settling for a blue and white one.

Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, he can hold you in an unending conversation on football. On how Brian Glanville, his favourite football writer never made a mention about Zidane in his post-mortem of the 1998 World Cup in his famous book `Football Memories'; of the reasons why he ranks Maradona much higher than Pele; of the various coaching programmes telecast during odd hours; the blatant weaknesses of Indian soccer; complaints on his own club that turned a full fledged tournament into a sevens event; on football losing out to cricket; on the dubious refereeing standards in this World Cup; the new football being used... ..

Every time you try to turn the topic around Mr Varma gets back to football. For, as Arnold Bennett said, "Football has got to do with everything" in his life.

Photo by Johney Thomas

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