World Cup fever grips Kerala

World Cup fever grips Kerala

Photo courtesy: Facebbok

Kevin De Bruyne is not a name that rolls off the tongue. Not easily like, say, Mohanlal. But it doesn't matter.

In Valiathura on the Thiruvananthapuram coast, 21-year-old Vipin talks about Belgium, its prospects in the FIFA World Cup in Russia and the team's star midfielder with such uninhibited passion that getting names right becomes inconsequential, a side note.

In a World Cup season in Kerala, all that matters is the game itself and the millions it unites.

Nainam Valappu, off the Kozhikode coast, has some of football's most fervent followers. Here, it's a staple mix of team jerseys, fan wars fought on flex-boards and heated post-match debates.

"It does get intense but we make sure that the arguments don't lead to violence," said N V Subair, president of the Nainam Valappu Football Fans Association.

The association has even formulated rules to regulate fan behaviour.

The colony with about 4,000 residents has seen the classic Argentina-Brazil rivalry play out over generations. The two teams continue to be top draws here, followed by Germany, Spain and France.

In the football-crazy northern districts of Malappuram and Kozhikode, the World Cup has brought out familiar colours and on expected lines, Argentina and Brazil top in popularity.

In other parts, the mood unfolds in homes painted in team colours, beach tournaments, social meet-ups with live screening, motorbike rallies, music videos and the one question you can't escape – Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Subair says it's not always about teams but he does miss Holland and Italy in this edition.

For Arjun P, an IT consultant from Kochi, it is about teams; or one team. Coming from a family of hardened Argentina fans, he grew up listening to stories about Diego Maradona and 1986.

"It's good to see politicians and celebrities as fans. Even with these team rivalries, internet trolls and memes, the World Cup brings people together. I follow club football more keenly but this is different," he said.

Politicians, including ministers, have also joined the party, proclaiming team loyalties on social media.

Argentina supporters have been left disappointed with an underwhelming campaign. Dinu Alex, a 30-year-old fan from Kottayam, ended his life following his team's loss to Croatia in their group stage match.

Event managers, meanwhile, are cashing in. In Thrissur, Jobin and Irene had an Argentina-themed wedding reception where everything from chairs to welcome drinks came in the hallowed blue-and-white.

"The groom, an Argentina fan, wanted something unique. Since it's the World Cup season, this was a natural choice; we got the attention," said Jinu Paul, founder of Roman Event Planners, organisers of the reception.

Attention, indeed, is key.

Rakhi Naidu, proprietor of Karimbuli Restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, said response to live screening of the matches has been good.

At bars and beer parlours, the matchday crowd typically comprises under-40 men. It, still, isn't hard to find the senior in the quiet corner who abruptly turns around and tells you about the Brazilians of 1982.