Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

I-League is fine, but Kozhikode needs more

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi  

An annual tournament will help the city boost its passion for football

Last Saturday, over 10,000 people came to watch a football match at the Corporation Stadium. That was quite surprising. Maybe it wasn't that surprising, after all.

It was surprising because it was only the South Zone qualifying tournament of the Santosh Trophy. India's national football championship has long lost its prestige.

And this tournament was only an exercise to identify two of the ten teams that will compete in the final phase of the Santosh Trophy, to be staged in Mizoram later in the year.

The big turnouts – there as a good crowd for Kerala’s other match earlier in the tournament too – weren't surprising because the venue was Kozhikode. No other Indian city could perhaps boast of as much passion for football.

That doesn't mean everything is well with the beautiful game in the city, though. If Kozhikode wants to retain its rich tradition and interest in football, it needs tournaments – not just the Santosh Trophy qualifiers.

Not even the I-League matches would be enough. Kozhikode becoming Gokulam Kerala's base is a blessing, no doubt. Because the team plays all its matches in Kozhikode, though it is registered as a club in Malappuram, the stadium is in good shape and the football fans could come out in the evening and watch a game live, not just on television or mobile phone.

But, the I-League alone cannot sustain football in Kozhikode. True, the city could host matches in a season, but it is spread over four months. The first match of the 2019-20 edition will be played on November 30, against Neroca FC (Imphal), while the next will be on January 4, against Aizawl FC (Mizoram).

Only when you have back-to-back matches, would you be able to maintain the momentum and retain the passion. A quality, annual tournament can do that.

That was what the Sait Nagjee tournament did for four decades. From 1952 to 1995, it was held in most years, and the football-mad city played the perfect host to India's finest players.

The tournament was revived in early 2016 in grand manner. An international tournament featuring eight teams from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England, Romania, Ukraine and Ireland was the first of its kind in the country.

The quality of the football on display was sublime. The marketing was anything but.

One is not sure though if spending ₹3 crore on bringing former Brazilian World-Cup winner Ronaldinho to the Kozhikode beach, to market the tournament, was worth it. The pricing of tickets was also an issue.

The tournament ended up in a loss of close to ₹7 crore. The Kozhikode District Football Association (KDFA), headed by its affable secretary P. Haridas, didn't deserve such misfortune.

But even that setback hasn't dampened the KDFA’s enthusiasm. Haridas and his men are trying to bring more tournaments to Kozhikode. For the last couple of years, they have been trying to to hold the E.K. Nayanar Gold Cup tournament and are also planning a pre-season tournament involving Gokulam, Kerala Blasters and a few other I-League and ISL teams.

The KDFA needs all the support it could get, from the sponsors, the clubs, and the Kerala Football Association (KFA). Kozhikode doesn't shy away from staging any tournament the KFA requests it to.

But, what Kozhikode needs is not just the Santosh Trophy South Zone qualifiers or the Kerala Premier League (the State league that apparently nobody is keen about). The KFA is trying to bring to Kerala the Nehru Cup, an international tournament that enjoyed huge popularity when it was held in various cities across the country in the 1980s and 90s.

It was held in Kozhikode in 1987. The city would be only too glad to play the host once again.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 8:51:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/i-league-is-fine-but-kozhikode-needs-more/article29947556.ece

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