Kerala is one of those few Indian states where football is being followed more than any other sports. A real Malayali would have watched at least a season of European leagues or South American league creating a huge love for the game but he would have not missed any season of ISL or I-League (after Gokulam’s inclusion) or even the local sevens football.
Kerala club football did not have a very attractive past. Many professional clubs were formed but failed to live up to the expectations, Viva Kerala, FC Cochin etc are examples of clubs which were never able to create a strong professional club atmosphere in Kerala while the football strived in Kerala with the help of small leagues which were organised across the state especially in Malappuram, where football is being worshipped kept the culture going.
Past five years brought in some great changes to the Kerala football scenario and fan culture. The year 2014 witnessed the beginning of a new era of Indian football with the introduction of the Indian Super League. Kerala then was blessed with a club own by none other than Sachin Tendulkar. Kerala Blaster’s arrival created a huge buzz in the state with the football fans across the state becoming united to support a club. Kerala Blasters created that professionalism that Kerala club football lacked and people greeted with their warm hearts, the love for football took sixty to seventy thousand fans to the stadium filling up the stadium in such a way that it mesmerizes anyone who sees it.
We all know fans have high expectations, Blasters fans’ expectations were never fulfilled by the club management, lack of Keralites in the team and lack of success were the main issues in the first few seasons of ISL but Manjappada (fan group of Kerala Blasters ) supported their club unconditionally to their maximum strength. The monopoly of Blasters was destroyed by the introduction of Gokulam Kerala FC to I-League which was owned by Malayali co-operate Gokulam Gopalan. The club is now based at Calicut and is managed by Bino George who is a Malayali himself and knows what his fans expect his team to do.
A rivalry or brotherhood who knows, is starting to develop in Kerala which is really good for Kerala football. Just like Blasters in ISL, Gokulam FC has a tremendous fan base and are blessed with twenty thousand plus fans on each and every home game. Gokulam Kerala, unlike Blasters, is more dependent on young local talents and unexpected success has captivated the imagination of fans. More than a brotherhood a rival will be an apt one, a huge reduction in Blasters’ attendance can be taken as an example. When a fan comes to the stadium and supports his team, it is the responsibility of the team to entertain him or he will cease to come. This is what is happening to Kerala Blasters fanbase.
Blasters are digging their own grave by failing to deliver on-the-field. You don’t have to win everything but you have to show some intention on the field, the poor attitude of both management and team has made the things worse for Blasters and on other hand helped Gokulam to steal the Blasters fanbase. Fans are not blind, they will only support good football and the team which shows intent it and Gokulam have been successful in this.
Kerala Blasters has become a nostalgia for every Malayali, even for Gokulam head coach Bino George. He quoted “Blasters are a great team, has a lot of young stars like Dheeraj, Sahal, Prasanth and experienced ones like our own CK, Anas, Jhingan and many. They have talent at their disposal and I hope James would turn things around for them” when asked on Blasters.
Besides Bengal, there have been some states which have come into the forefront in phases. While in the immediate post-independent era we saw the domination of Hyderabad, the 2000s have seen the domination of Goa. As the situation is unfolding the new decade is going to belong to Kerala if the clubs can manage and channelise this in a proper way. And if Kerala football has to grow, both Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters has to develop in unison. The brotherhood behind the rivalry of both the club management and the supporters can propagate something better in football in Kerala