Malappuram celebrating Santosh Trophy festival


For matches beginning at 8 p.m., people are reaching the stadium from 6 p.m., many carrying Iftar kits

For matches beginning at 8 p.m., people are reaching the stadium from 6 p.m., many carrying Iftar kits

The football fervor is at its pinnacle in Malappuram, thanks to the ongoing Santosh Trophy tournament. For the people of Malappuram, football is a religion that unites them over and above their faith, profession, age and caste. They are celebrating the Santosh Trophy festival in every sense.

The celebration culminates when the host Kerala plays its game. The stadium at Payyanad, near Manjeri, was bursting at the seams when Kerala took on Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Meghalaya.

“All Kerala matches were a treat for us. Our team did not disappoint us, though they drew the match against Meghalaya,” says Manoj Kumar, an ardent football fan from Malappuram.

Malappuram is hosting Santosh Trophy for the first time. It is the biggest football tournament the district is hosting since it witnessed the group matches of the Federation Cup eight years ago.

“What makes Santosh Trophy so special in Malappuram is the ‘difficult’ time that it is being held. People are celebrating football in spite of being in Ramzan,” says Super Ashraf, aka Bava, a hardcore football lover and State general secretary of the Sevens Football Association.

For matches beginning at 8 p.m., people are reaching the stadium at Payyanad from 6 p.m. Many of them carry Iftar kits with them, and are seen sharing food with friends at Iftar time and doing prayers (namaz) on the gallery.

“We come to the stadium after doing ablutions, and we do break our fast when the sun sets and perform Magrib namaz immediately after that,” says Abdul Shukoor, a schoolteacher from Manjeri.

For a Kerala match, the stadium at Payyanad draws anything above 25,000. According to the organisers, about 80,000 people watched the three matches played by Kerala.

“The enthusiasm of the people of Malappuram, particularly Manjeri, should open the eyes of the authorities. They should build higher capacity stadiums and maintain them in this part of the State so that we can bring more national and international tournaments here,” says Rishikesh Abhinandan, a football enthusiast from Manjeri.

Ramesh Mathew, a senior sports journalist, was wowed by the surging crowds at the Payyanad stadium. “Malappuram is now the Mecca of Indian football. Look at the massive crowds at Manjeri’s Payyanad stadium. If Santosh Trophy group matches here can attract so many people, Manjeri can definitely be considered for ISL and I-League tournaments. National football matches should take place in places such as Manjeri, where people venerate the game,” says Mr. Mathew.

However, according to Mr. Bava, the standard of the Santosh Trophy has dimmed largely because of the current rules. “The authorities should see to it that all team field the best of players,” he says.

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