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FIFA World Cup 2018: As kick-off nears, Kerala is on a ball

If a visitor is mistaken that the World Cup is happening in Kerala and not in far off Russia, he can’t be blamed. The dreaded Nipah viral outbreak that claimed 17 lives in north Kerala had stolen initial frenzy but the fever is back.

football Updated: Jun 13, 2018 16:56 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Thiruvananthapuram
FIFA World Cup 2018,FIFA World Cup,Russia
The FIFA World Cup 2018 frenzy is catching up fast in Kerala.(K Sasi/HT Photo)

World Cup cake, ice cream, halwa and special haircuts - the north Kerala is on a ball. You name it, they have it. With just four days left for the kick-off for the 2018 World Cup, football frenzy is at its crescendo. Though not a participating country, but a mere spectator role is no excuse for frenzied fans.

If a visitor is mistaken that the World Cup is happening here and not in far off Russia, he can’t be blamed. The dreaded Nipah viral outbreak that claimed 17 lives in north Kerala had stolen initial frenzy but the fever is back. Glittering festoons, towering cut-outs and fluttering flags of 32 nations gaze you from every corner and the smart ones drape their vehicles in the jersey of their favourite team.

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The month-long jamboree is little ‘biased’ also - call it Communist influence – as in many places legendary revolutionary Che Guevera rubs shoulder with Messi and Higuain or so-called liberal views in fan-following and allegiance Latin American countries march over western nations. Most towns and villages in Malabar have turned extensions of football-obsessed Latin American cities and the only difference, Samba is missing.

Wearing the jersey of Neymar Abdul Gafoor (24), an electrician, is sitting alone on the monsoon-drenched concrete bench in Nainan Valappu, a costal hamlet on the outskirts of Kozhikkode. After the kick off in football-crazy village people like him will be known after their players. Last time he was Thiago Silva (former captain of Brazil) and he lost his motor bike after his favourite team lost in the semi-final.

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This time he has taken a vow that he won’t indulge in betting. “It’s a combo offer for us. The World Cup has come in the month of Holy Ramzan. So I have decided not to participate in guessing game,” he said. He has taken a soft loan of Rs 10,000 to decorate his area. True, fans spend lavishly for their soccer gods.

A couple of kms away from Nainan Valappu, stays Brazeelia (38), the Muslim League women wing secretary. It is an old story though when Brazil lost in the semi-final (seven -one wound is still afresh in her mind) in the last World Cup she couldn’t sleep for a couple of days. But this time she is hoping against the hope. “I feel Neymar and Gabriel Jesus will click well,” the 38-year-old Brazeelia Shamsuddin now runs a boutique has no doubt. Her father was an ardent soccer fan and he named his second daughter after the Brazil capital.

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Wayside tea shops to fish market talks revolve around their religion - football. Attacking game of Messi, dribbling prowess of Jesus and bicycle shots of Ronaldo all talk football. If you engage someone here with your little knowledge you will be in trouble. In Muslim-majority areas, worried mosque committees have enforced fatwas but they failed to move the spirited fans.

“This time we have strict code of conduct. If we come across any betting members will be expelled summarily. No night rallies or vehicle procession,” said N V Zubair, president of the Nianam Valappu Football Fans Association (NFFA). Founded in 1996, NFFA is in constant touch with FIFA which regularly sends its brochures and periodicals. In Nainan Valappu and surrounding areas people hoist the flag of their favourite team atop their houses.

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“Soccer crosses all barriers here. They track movement of their favourite players closely. For them it is more than a festival,” said former Indian player and Kerala Blasters’ member C K Vineeth, hailing from north Malabar’s Koothuparambha. “Malabar’s soccer craze is very old. When TV was not there people hear running commentaries on radio. There were community radio corners in 1960s,” said senior broadcasting journalist N K Raveendran.

Soccer also boosts trade. Shops are busy hawking the cup merchandise - chappals, caps, umbrella, bags, head gears and T-shirts. “Last time I sold Rs five lakh worth cup materials. This time I am expecting a hike of 50 per cent,” said a leading merchant at Sweet Meat Street. As the countdown nears many here vouch it will be a mix of power game, classic football and technique.

Fever has gripped other areas of the state as well. In south Kerala’s Kollam a Brazil fan has taken frenzy to a new level. He dipped his house in yellow and renamed it “Brazil Sudheer.” He also changed his car colour and planning to tour Kozhikkode and Malappuram districts as the game gets going.

First Published: Jun 13, 2018 16:41 IST