Turning to new turfs as playgrounds vanish

Diego football park at Akkulam; the artificial cricket turf at Chanthavila, the first-of-its-kind in Kerala.  

Till around the turn of the millennium, almost every other locality in the city used to have a playground, which would either be an unused plot of land or paddy land lying fallow.

Come evening, kids and adults used to gather in these grounds for fiercely contested football or cricket matches. Then, slowly, each of these grounds began disappearing, making way for apartment complexes and high rises.

The cricket and football matches shifted to the narrow streets and bylanes, or even to mobile screens. The story of disappearing playgrounds even got the attention of the Malayalam film industry, which came out with the film Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu, tackling the issue sensitively.

An opportunity

But, some saw an opportunity in this crisis. In November 2018, a group of four football fans, working in diverse fields, came together to set up the first-ever artificial football turf in the city, at Chanthavila. Known as Friday Football Club (FFC) arena, the floodlit turf is equipped with an effective rainwater draining system, which makes playing possible virtually round-the-clock in almost all weather conditions.

Turning to new turfs as playgrounds vanish

“The reason we started this was of course due to our passion for football. Turf culture has been popular for some years in cities overseas, as well as outside Kerala. We used to play on these while travelling, and during my stint in Bengaluru. Six years ago, when I shifted to Thiruvananthapuram, I realised that the city lacks such facilities. Even the normal grounds were not easily available. So, four of us got together, pooled in the money and set up the turf in Chanthavila. Though the location is slightly remote, a lot of football players began coming here,” says S. Balagopal, one of the founders of FFC arena. Two of the founders work in the IT field, while one is a doctor and another works in the telecommunication industry.

Ample bookings

Soon, professional as well as amateur football players began flocking to the arena, with bookings getting filled for weeks. But, the FFC team did not stop at this. On Saturday, adjacent to the football arena, they opened an artificial cricket turf, the first of its kind in Kerala.

“Though cricket is hugely popular here, we did not have a facility like this here. We only have net practice facilities in stadiums. This is a huge risk that we have taken, pooling in the revenue from the football turf,” says Mr. Balagopal.

The success of the FFC brought in more players. In the past one and a half years, the number of football turfs in the city has gone up to around 20, with most of them concentrated around the Kazhakuttam region, with an eye on the football fans in the IT industry. But, turfs have come up in areas like Vattiyoorkavu and Ambalathara too.

The Diego Football Park in Akkulam is one of the few turfs that are open for 24 hours. With its location in an isolated area without any houses nearby, there is no concern of causing trouble to neighbours. One of the frequent visitors here are a group of migrant workers working in restaurants nearby. They arrive here on weekends, to play their matches from 2 a.m., when almost the entire city would be sleeping.

“We opened this turf exactly one year ago. Though my initial plan was to set it up in Kochi, my cousin convinced me to come here. Most of the visitors are people from the 14-40 age group, with everyone from students to IT employees to teams from the coastal areas being part of it. Teams comprising only of women, from the IT companies too come for matches once in a while,” says Hari Xavier, one of the owners of Diego Football Park.

According to Aneez, an IT employee, the comfort as well as the flexible timings made him shift from playing in grounds to turfs.

“In the normal grounds, you can play only in the morning or evening. For working professionals like me, this does not allow much flexibility, while in turfs, we can play even late at night. The comfort as well as playing under the floodlights on the artificial grass, which gives one the feeling of playing in a real football ground, are the highlights of turf matches. But, we have to book at least one week in advance to ensure that we get a space to play,” he says.

Rajeev Krishnan, another IT employee, says that the boom in football turfs has led to creation of exclusive turf tournaments.

“I have set aside the Mondays and Wednesdays for turf matches. I frequent the Khel turf opposite Infosys, as well as the turf near the Mall of Travancore. Since we have formed teams for this, we go together at the specified time,” he says.

Most of those who have opened turfs have taken land on lease for the purpose. The initial investment for this is anywhere between ₹50 and 75 lakh, depending on the quality of the turf material, most of which is imported. The length of the artificial grass blades, in the range of 50-60 mm, decides the quality of the playing surface. The hourly rates for the turf range from ₹1,000 to ₹2,500, depending on the quality of the turf as well as the time of the day.

“Since it is a match of fives or sevens, we will have 10 to 14 people, who can easily pool in the money, making it only around ₹100 per head, which is not too much for a quality football turf,” says Mr. Aneez.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 6:48:20 PM |

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