Kozhikode, India – The World Cup has arrived in the football-mad southern city of India, where Lionel Messi, Neymar and other star players are, literally, larger than life.
In Kozhikode, in southern Kerala, fans have been celebrating the biggest international sporting event for decades. The most expensive players are displayed all over the city on the west coast of India, along with flags and banners. Almost every street has jewelry, as people show their love for the game.
Argentina and Brazil have been getting a lot of support here, which is associated with teams with famous names such as Kaka (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite), Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Diego Maradona.
Brazil versus Argentina
Muhammad Basith, aged 28, a businessman and a Brazil fan since the late 1990s believes the support for Brazil has increased since 1998 but the fervour for Argentina is more deep-rooted.
He fondly remembers when he began watching football in 1998, his father bringing home a small colour TV just before Mario Zagallo’s side reached the final of the World Cup that year.
“Brazil’s performances in that tournament began my story of supporting them. I remember that the TV that my father bought had a switch shaped like a football. That TV is still preserved at my home somewhere as a memory,” Basith told Al Jazeera.
The flags of Argentina and Brazil fly high in the city. Even in the neighbouring district of Malappuram, former and current football greats feature prominently on billboards. Maradona is often depicted as a guiding god-like figure overseeing manager Lionel Scaloni’s team.
“A lot of younger fans support Brazil because Argentina have not won the World Cup since 1986. But the support for Argentina is much deeper,” Basith said.
“People do like to portray stars as larger-than-life characters in Kerala and that also applies to film stars. But footballers connect with them on a different level, especially those from Brazil and Argentina.”
Love for street football
The seven-a-side football culture has grown in Kerala and there are pitches across Kozhikode, where the wet weather and muddy terrain create perfect conditions for play.
It is no wonder that street footballers who became masters of the game have a special place in the hearts of fans here.
“Kerala is not the most urbanized state in India. This means that there is a lot of empty land and when crops are not planted, these areas become imperfect football fields for children and young people. Urban sprawl means that people often have less time to spare. ,” said Basith.
Maradona, Lionel Messi, Brazil’s Ronaldo and Neymar all played on the streets where they grew up, and fans in Kerala see a grassroots connection.
Bilal Ahmed, a businessman from Kozhikode and a football fan, said: “These fields are used in the morning and evening. Since the economy in the area depends on fishing, people have time to play football.”
The easy access to the ball and the lack of difficulty make the first adopters. “We just want football. Cricket needs more time and resources. There is no place or culture to play cricket here, because there is a lot of sand. This makes football easier to play,” Ahmed said.
Walking on water
Pullavoor, a village on the outskirts of Kozhikode, caused a stir on social media with the cuts of Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo.
Irshad PK, a member of the Pullavoor fan club in Argentina, said: “We enjoy it and we support Argentina because they play great football. It’s part of our life.”
Placing Messi’s cut was a tedious process that took several hours, he said.
– rizwan_m.m (@Rlzw4n) October 31, 2022
Neymar’s one was placed a few meters ahead of Messi on the Cherupuzha River.
A closer look revealed five small stickers floating around a picture of the Paris Saint-Germain star, representing the World Cup trophies Brazil has won.
Great response from Brazilian fans Pullavoor, Calicut 😍🙌
Keeping 40 ft Neymar cut to counter Messi’s cut#BRAZIL #NeymarJr #Messi📃 #Argentina #FIFAWorldCupQatar2022 @FIFAWorldCup @neymarjr @chigoli @ESPNFC @RVCJ_FB @theengineerbro @ pic.twitter.com/9zLjJubGeT
— Aravind Arun (@Aravind92853834) November 3, 2022
Football and the World Cup are also sources of income in Kozhikode, with fans carrying flags and jerseys. TV commercials and radio subscriptions also rise – with a corresponding increase in World Cup advertising.
It is not only in South America. Flags of Spain, Germany, France and England can also be seen on coastal roads like Vellayil and Beypore in Kozhikod. The rise of competitors and flags makes the streets a battlefield for the fans.
Basith described football as a force for cultural unification.
“In some areas, children are gifted with computer games and mobile phones. Here, children have football gifts. “