The monsoon may miss much of Tamil Nadu but arrives in full force in Kanyakumari, just like in Kerala. On Wednesday, too, there was pouring rain. As soon as they got a breather from the rain, some young people in Thoothoor’s Chinnathurai gathered on the village ground.
Mostly barefoot, they were otherwise dressed for the beautiful game. On Thursday, the whole world was going to start getting enthralled, and Thoothoor youth were warming up to it.
“I have my own boat and go out fishing. I may not read or write a lot but I play the game,” says Praveen.
Kanyakumari district’s political, cultural and social links with the rest of Tamil Nadu have always been tenuous. Politically the district gives greater play to national parties. Culturally and socially, it is a much more multi-religious society. Even in sports, the district often draws a line, separating it from the rest of Tamil country. Volleyball has struck roots here, for instance.
While Chennai as an urban destination may have warmed up to World Cup football, it’s the fishing villages of Kanyakumari where the sport is a passion play. “I have been playing football from my childhood. The game is our life,” says Anees who is studying MBA at a private college on Coimbatore.
His friend Praveen has studied only up to Class 6. “I have my own boat and go out fishing. I may not read or write a lot but I play the game,” says Praveen.
Twenty-eight-year-old Praveen is the goalie for the local team – a formidable achievement since the football teams here lack none of the passion associated with the streets and bylanes of Brazilian cities.
Football fields many here although the distance between goalposts may not be of international standards. Thoothoor has its own teams – sworn rivals. The match-ups between the teams are no less a proxy for war than elsewhere in the world.
The village has given many skilled state-level and national players. 23-year-old Soosai Raj was a regular in the national league. Now he has been selected for the Indian Super League. “Our football traditions have little to do with any encouragement by the government. We play the game out of our own interest. Now private companies are noticing the talent that resides in our village,” says Soosai Raj, who says the interest in football may have come with the district’s umbilical links with Kerala.
“Our football traditions have little to do with any encouragement by the government.” – Soosai Raj
Soosai’s favourite player is Messi. His favourite team? Portugal.
He fancies the chances of Spain, Brazil and France this World Cup. Stars can lift the game of Argentina and Portugal, too, he adds.
India may still be cricket-mad. But times are changing, says Soosai Raj. He points to the improvement in the overall global ranking of India in football. “When India becomes a football power, Thoothoor will have its stars in the team,” he adds.