A few days ago, a group of young men, comprising fishermen, daily labourers, policemen, shopkeepers and students, from the Kavaratti island of Lakshadweep alighted here from a ship to play football. It was no fun event that they came for; they were here for the qualifying leg of the Santosh Trophy National football championship.
It was their first ever tournament; Lakshadweep had been affiliated to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) only a couple of weeks ago. So the team had been hastily put together.
In any case, there is not a large pool to select the players from: the population of Lakshadweep is less than 65,000. Contrast that with two of their opponents: Tamil Nadu (7.8 crore) and Telangana (3.5 crore).
Even if they had lost all their three matches by huge margins, nobody would have blamed them. But, they beat Telangana and conceded only six goals in the entire tournament.
It is a big feat for the men from the small islands. It is also one of the most heart-warming stories in Indian sport in recent times.
That story, though, will not appear in print in Lakshadweep. “We have no newspapers, except the one brought out by the government,” said K. I. Nizamuddin, general secretary of the Lakshadweep Football Association (LFA). “It is a struggle to organise finance for football in Lakshadweep.”
A huge welcome, however, awaits the football team in the islands. “We were delighted when we learnt that our team beat Telangana,” Lakshadweep MP P. P. Mohammed Faizal, who had played a key role in getting the LFA affiliated to the AIFF, told Sportstar from Androth. “Now football will become even more popular across the islands. We will soon have the first proper football ground and a SAI training centre will also come up.”
The Lakshadweep players came here without much training. Kozhikode-based C. M. Deepak was roped in as the coach a few days before the tournament kicked off.
“They had little technical knowledge about the game, but they more than compensated with their skills, passion and stamina,” Deepak said. “They were used to playing games of 60 minutes, and it was here they played for 90 minutes without any difficulty at all.”
Deepak would soon be travelling to Lakshadweep to train the coaches there. “We gained a lot from training under him,” said the team’s defender Darvesh Khan, who earns a living by fishing. “To play at the Santosh Trophy has been an amazing experience for us. We are sure we will inspire many young players back home.”