The world is a ball in football-crazy Kerala

Brazil fans take out a bike rally in Malappuram. (DH Photo)

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 mid-fielder 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,” says 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 meetups with live screening, motorbike rallies, music videos and the one question you can’t escape – Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?

The fans are disappointed with the muted start – Argentina and Brazil drew with Iceland and Switzerland, respectively – and Germany’s loss to Mexico but these are early days. Subair says it’s not always about the teams but he does miss the Netherlands and Italy in this edition.

For Arjun P, an IT consultant from Kochi, it is about teams, or rather one team. Coming from a family of die-hard Argentina fans, he grew up listening to stories about Diego Maradona and the 1986 World Cup.

“It’s good to see politicians and celebrities join in 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,” says Arjun.

Event managers are also cashing in. In Thrissur, Jobin and Irene had an Argentina-themed wedding reception, where everything from the chairs to the 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 and we got the attention,” says Jinu Paul, founder of Roman Event Planners, organisers of the reception. Attention, indeed, is key.

Rakhi Naidu, the proprietor of Karimbuli Restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, says the response to live-screening of matches has been good. At the bars and beer parlours, the match-day 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.

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The world is a ball in football-crazy Kerala

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