ALIVE AND KICKING

A CROWD PULLER. Huge crowds witness a match in the Kerala State inter-district football championship at Manjeri.-

There could be more supporters in India for Manchester United than Mahindra United. While many in this country are happy to sacrifice sleep to watch the late night telecast of the Premiership, most of them may not even know who leads the NFL points table; and you cannot blame them of course. Things are refreshingly different in Malappuram, in Northern Kerala, though. The folks here simply love football; they don't insist on watching only Ronaldinho, Rooney, Beckham or Henry. They are happy to pay and watch players who have never even been to an international sporting venue, let alone play at one.

The final of the Kerala State inter-district football championship, held at Manjeri (one of the major towns of Malappuram) recently, was watched, from the temporary stands at the Govt. BHSS Ground, by — believe it or not — over 13,000 spectators. And they paid at least Rs. 25 per ticket.

There was a crowd of more than 11,000 for one of the semifinals too. "You would see such big crowds anywhere in Malappuram," says the Malappuram District Football Association secretary M. Mohammed Salim. "I guess I became a football player only because I was born in Malappuram," says T. Asif Sahir, the SBT striker and one of the better players of our time not to have played for India so far.

P. K. Ajith Kumar