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It’s ‘football fever’ in Thiruvananthapuram

Young Portugal fans in the coastal hamlet of Poovar.

Young Portugal fans in the coastal hamlet of Poovar.   | Photo Credit: Harikumar J.S.

The kick-off to the FIFA World Cup has the city in the grip of football fever

The tantalising wait is finally over and the capital city is in fever pitch. Come rain or shine, this is the time when folks cannot simply have enough of taking sides and screaming with pure joy when a Messi or Ronaldo or Neymar weaves his magic on a distant green turf.

Big banners, flex boards, larger-than-life cut-outs and festooning buntings of football stars, all proclaiming staunch local allegiance to some World Cup contender or soccer phenomenon, have been cropping up in various pockets of the city.

There are some, like Alan Kurian, who are not happy with simply making do with a live telecast and are packing their bags to the host nation. “I’m travelling to Russia on a 10-day itinerary and will be catching some of the round of 16 matches at the venues there,” says Alan, a techie working in Technopark. Though a Chile fan, Alan is not disappointed that his team has not made it to the marquee event and is contented with backing Belgium as a “neutral” spectator. “England vs Belgium is a riveting fixture but, unfortunately, the tickets are sold out,” he sighs.

Though, theoretically, the city can be divided into either Brazil and Argentina fans, an age-old rivalry, or Messi vs Ronaldo, there are others who plan to side with England, Spain, Germany, with some even backing Belgium to make the grade. “I have always supported England as I grew up watching the English Premier League. With less weight of expectations and a young but sturdy squad this year, they definitely have a strong chance,” feels Jessin M. Nazeem, an entrepreneur, who plans to catch all the excitement with his buddies, all entrepreneurs, at their “in-house big-screen” projection at Uchakkada despite a busy work schedule.

Apps to the rescue

For Raphael Thomas from Pattom, a medical officer with the Kerala Ranji Trophy team, football is “medicine”. A hectic schedule notwithstanding, the Brazil supporter is unwilling to give up on his passion and will rely on his smartphone if at work. “If I can’t be at home and watch the game on TV on time, I can always live-stream it on my phone. There are a lot of mobile apps now that serve the purpose,” says Raphael.

Niketh S.J., an architect who’s currently doing a design course at IIT-Bombay, counts himself “extremely lucky.” The German supporter is having his semester break and is back home and is thrilled to see holders Die Mannschaft firing on all cylinders again. Gokul. G from Kalady, a self-confessed Manchester United fan working with a bank, roots for England and plans to watch his favourite team in action at a big-screen projection in Poojappura. He says a couple of his football-mad friends are in fact jetting off to Russia for a Portugal game.

Flex boards erected by football lovers at Government law college junction in Thiruvananthapuram as football fever grips the city

Flex boards erected by football lovers at Government law college junction in Thiruvananthapuram as football fever grips the city   | Photo Credit: C.RATHEESH KUMAR

A growing fan base for club soccer has naturally created a febrile spirit for World Cup when many players, otherwise rivals, bunch together fighting under a common flag. For example, Pradeep Mathews Tom, a hardcore fan of the European champions Real Madrid, by extension is a hardcore fan of Spain. Part of the fans club Pena Madrista de Kerala (Real Madrid Fans of Kerala), which actually has attained “official recognition” from the Spanish club, the IT sector worker says he supports La Roja as a great number of players who play for his favourite club represents the country too. “I’ll be wearing (Sergio) Ramos’ Real Madrid jersey when Spain’s in action,” says an enthused Pradeep, referring to the Spanish captain.

Seventy-two-year-old M.G. Nair says he ardently supports Germany. “I worked in Germany for 25 years as mechanical inspector with BMW and I still love them when it comes to football.”

Although different time zones, depending on the World Cup venue, have hardly ever failed to dampen the Malayalis’ spirit for football, this time around, fans of the beautiful game in this part of the planet feel they are rather lucky to have prime-time telecast. Apart from many sports clubs and restaurants turning mini-venues to catch the matches, ‘big screens’ would be put up at select locations in the city and at junctions or community halls in several coastal hamlets, where football mania is seared into its community fabric.

For instance, the coastal hamlet of Puthenthope, where “football and theatre are madness”, has just concluded its annual Jaihind football tournament in the run-up to the World Cup. Only this Sunday did Puthenthope witness ‘Argentina’ pipping ‘Brazil’ five goals to four, of course, at their local ground. With the monsoon blowing hot and cold, football buffs there are not taking any chances and are making arrangements for live projection of matches inside a big hall at their popular vayanashala.

Social media frenzy

Unlike previous years, social media is playing an active role in fuelling the local frenzy with trolls and teasers exchanged and challenges thrown and taken up via Facebook and Whatsapp, mostly between Brazil and Argentina fans. “It’s all, of course, in good humour,” says Roy Netto, a Puthenthope resident.

Keeping the rains in mind, Vanchiyoor Football Club (VFC) has made arrangements for a roofed shed near the Vanchiyoor court where a big-screen projection of every single match has been arranged. “We have been screening matches for the public for the last five World Cups, that is 20 years in all. It started with a small television set. This time, a 10m x 12m projection screen has been put in place and the facility will have a seating capacity of over 150. However, over 500 people can easily watch the matches here,” says Vanchiyoor P. Babu, chairman of VFC.

Some local football associations are also organising concurrent five-a-side or seven-a-side matches to liven up the razzmatazz. Today evening, the District Football Association plans to take out a large procession featuring young players of affiliated local clubs, starting from the Museum premises to Vanchiyoor. “The kids in football gear will be marching under the flags of the 32 countries playing in the World Cup,” says S. Gheevarghese, Secretary of District Football Association.

Now, the stage is set. As the FIFA World Cup 2018 kick-off whistle blows in a matter of hours, let’s football!

(A close encounter with people and places in the city)

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 12:16:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-kick-off-to-the-fifa-world-cup-has-thiruvananthapuram-in-the-grip-of-football-fever/article24151466.ece

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