Kerala’s passion for football is well known. It is one of the few states in India along with Bengal, Goa and some North eastern states, that has a substantial football following. Football fever reaches a crescendo during world cup time, once every four years. I happened to catch a glimpse of this enthusiasm and energy during my recent visit to Kerala.
When I was traveling on the streets, I saw large banners and posters of top football teams at almost every bus stop or junction, whereas I could hardly see any movie poster or a political party banner! The overwhelming favorite team among local people seems to be Argentina, followed by Brazil. There are lot of local fan clubs for both these teams. The clubs collect money from their members and put together banners supporting their teams.
The worldwide rivalry between Argentine & Brazil fans seem to find an echo in their banners too. Brazilian banners proclaim they are the greatest team and indirectly take a dig at Argentina. Argentine fans in turn try to put down Brazil players in their banners.
Maradona is undoubtedly the most popular footballer in Kerala. People told me that back in 1986, when Maradona-led Argentine team lifted the world cup, some parts of Kerala virtually resembled the streets of Buenos Aires. People celebrated like crazy as if Maradona was a part of their family! Some crazy fans even offered special prayers in temples while he was playing. Now, almost 25 years later, his popularity remains intact. Here he is seen smoking a cigar.
Lionel Messi is another popular name. Here he takes on wings and becomes an angel!
Brazilian banners had pictures of their great players, such as Pele, and current players such as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, etc. Che Guevara was also seen, both in Argentina & Brazil banners. Couldn't figure out how Che is connected to Brazil!!
My neighbor told me that flags of Argentina & Brazil are in demand during world cup time. In some areas, fans also paint walls with Albicelestes colors.
Other teams had supporters too, although they were few when compared to Argentina or Brazil. I saw just one or two Spain, German & Portugal banners.
Most people want to see a Brazil-Argentina final on July 11. That would be a dream match up. As of now, both these teams have entered the WC quarterfinals and are on course for a final showdown, unless Germany or Spain has other plans.
I've wondered what makes people love these footballers so much that they spent their hard-earned money and invest time and effort to celebrate their achievements. I think it has got to do with an undying passion for the beautiful game that cuts across all borders of nationality, religion, caste and language.
If you ever happen to visit Kerala during world cup season, try to stop for a moment and savor the atmosphere over there. It is a unique experience, one you can't find anywhere else in India.