They moved from Kerala to Italy for higher studies, work and seeking better lives. But for these soccer maniacs, there was no better life without football. Moving from a football-crazy State to a country where soccer is almost a religion, they took their game to a new level.
Come Sunday, Adlers Lombard, a Keralites-run football club in Italy, will begin its journey in the Italian football system by competing in the CSI (Centro Sportivo Italiano) Regione Bergamo, a lower-division football league competition consisting of 12 teams. The club formed in 2019 plays the 7-a-side football format. It is the first of its kind, with 15 Keralites among its 20-member roster, to play in an Italian league. The CSI Regione Bergamo season lasts 10 months.
"Before moving to Italy from Kerala, one thing we all liked doing most was playing football. We came to Italy from different parts of Kerala at different times. But football has brought us together. After launching Adlers Lombard (Eagles from Lombardy), the team initially participated in some local tournaments. In the last 12 months or so, we have won five tournaments organised by the Kerala European Football Federation in Italy and Germany. The victories prompted the team management to register the club with the CSI and participate in the league," says club vice-captain Mohammed Naseef C.P. who hails from Malappuram and works as a teacher in Italy. According to him, Adlers Lombard is the first 'Indian Club' to compete in an Italian football league.
The team is captained by Muhammed Abir P.T., also from Malappuram. The rest of the Keralite players are from Thrissur, Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram and so on. Two other Indians and a couple of Italian players are part of the team. The club has spent around €20,000 (approximately ₹15.84 lakhs) to prepare the team for competing in the league. They raised the money through sponsorships from several funders including an Italy-based automobile giant.
For Adlers Lombard, competing in CSI Regione Bergamo is just a start. "We are currently plying our trade in a lower division. But we are ambitious and have a long-term goal. Our aim is to play professional football in Italy in Serie D, Serie C, Serie B and Serie A and compete against top teams like Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. We hope to recruit Indian players and provide them with a chance to play in the Italian league. It will help the growth of football in India," says Smento Joseph, president, Adlers Lombard who hails from Angamaly in Kerala.