Anas Edathodika, the 29-year-old defender from Malappuram, who plays for Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League, signed for I-League club Mohun Bagan this season, which he considers, a feat so fulfilling.
“In Kerala, one is considered very lucky if they get to play for the club. Some renowned players from the State like Jo Paul Ancheri and I.M. Vijayan have played for the club. It’s like winning a trophy, a big achievement in itself.
“Malappuram has produced some top-quality players who’ve represented the National team. So, any football enthusiast there — who are a lot, by the way — takes pride in that fact and does whatever they could do to try and sustain the tradition,” he said.
“For instance, my brother’s Geography teacher then, Ajmal, was a football player and a fanatic. He used to get talented youngsters, in batches, to train under his patronage, and even landed them opportunities with the Indian Air Force and Railways. I’m one in a lot of players he helped grow.”
Thus, he reasons, the aspirations of a budding footballer will easily be understood than elsewhere, and that they’ll invariably get supported, in his hometown.
Malappuram’s fabled Kottapadi stadium is known for people streaming in thick and cheering — like rain swishing and drumming on a corrugated roof — for any football match — high, medium, or low in standard or significance.
The recently launched Gokulam FC, whose immediate goal is to enter the I-League in 2018, will have the stadium as its training base.
Anas is exhilarated by it. "We’ve had a few good clubs in Thrissur and Calicut, but largely I can feel that there are limited opportunities, barring the ISL, to play at the high-level, and so, many talented players stand less chance of being noticed.
“The emergence of this new club augurs well for Kerala, and it is doubly special that it has its practice ground in Malappuram.”
From playing for Mumbai and Pune FC in the I-League, to turning up for Delhi Dynamos, and signing for Mohun Bagan now, his career has had a steady progress. He reflected on the highlights of his career, proudly pensive.
“I was spotted by former National player Feroz Sherif in an inter-college tournament, who set me up for trials with Mumbai FC. So, I can say that I gained direct entry into the I-League, without playing in any league or for any local club. That’s one bright spot, yeah.
“Winning Pune FC’s Best Player of the Year award for the 2012-13 season is a moment to savour. At that time, in that kind of a team, with players like James Moga and Pierre Douhou, it was a difficult award to get.”
He was the first Indian player to win the award at that time.