Siesta time in Anjuna-Caisua, north Goa. The laterite-stone houses are silent, their inhabitants clustered under trees, or enjoying a snooze. The football ground, a clearing hemmed in by the village on one side and rolling hills on the other, is even more desolate.
Thirty minutes later, however, it is a scene transformed. A bunch of 10 people have materialised out of nowhere. Two megaphones blare out Remo Fernandes’s latest Goan numbers, tables and chairs are laid out, and the ground is ready for a match.
PVC Parra will take on Vallankani FC, Morjim, in a battle of two north Goa villages— one of many matches of the Anjuna-Caisua village panchayat’s inter-village tournament. There is a sizeable crowd already. A number of people are perched on their scooters, while the late entrants seek out the shade of trees to beat the heat. By 5.30 pm, there are almost 500 people watching the game.
“That’s not a bad figure. Just wait for the semi-finals and finals, it will be absolutely crazy,” says Lavino Rebello, a 47-year-old physical education teacher.
Hundreds of such inter-village tournaments are organised all over Goa in April and May, with a 5,000-strong crowd for the semi-final and final matches. As tourism slows down in the summer, residents devote their time to one of Goa’s oldest abiding passions, football. “This is the backbone of Goan culture. Almost every person you see on the ground today has played for his village,” says Rebello, a former player for Anjuna. On the field, every call the referee makes elicits boos and whistles. Advice and exhortations are hollered out to the players in rapid-fire Konkani. At half-time, there is an almighty rush at the Lotto counter, Housie being a staple at the tournaments.
There are 180 registered football clubs in Goa, says Savio Madeira, the secretary of the Goa Football Association. “In April and May, there might be 25 tournaments going on at the same time. In the last couple of years, the GFA has mandated that every club can conduct only two tournaments a year. That means almost 300 tournaments in over three months,” he says.
The south of Goa has traditionally been the stronger football hub. It is home to three professional football teams — Dempo, Salgaocar and Churchill — all playing in the top-tier of Indian professional football. A phalanx of Goan footballers who have made their mark on the national stage cut their teeth playing at these inter-village tournaments — like Climax Lawrence, Denzil Franco and Anthony D’Souza, all stars in the I-League and in the case of Lawrence, a regular fixture in the Indian side.
The sight of pick-up trucks packed with players of a village football team, followed by a merry convoy of enthusiastic villagers is a sight common on the narrow roads of interior Goa. Quite a few villages do not have a proper football ground, but that does not stop them from staging their own tournament. Impromptu goalposts are fashioned from planks and paddy fields turn into playing areas.
“Often with the irregular shape of the field, teams play eight- or nine-a-side matches and the restricted space makes for some thrilling football,” says Madeira. The teams play for pride as well as the money. “Almost every tournament will have prize money in excess of Rs 50,000. Some might even offer Rs 1 lakh,” he says.
One such paddy field tournament is being conducted in the village of Goa-Velha, 5 km from Panjim. The music is loud, a few stalls are doing brisk business selling Goan sausages and the now-ubiquitous Lotto session is hotly contested. The football is eye-catching. Players, some as young as 15, take on 40-year-old veterans. The game is played at a high tempo, the passing is fluid. As an enthusiastic youngster brings down the opposing captain, a rotund man in his 30s, the crunching tackle is greeted by chuckles and applause.
“This is the beauty of Goan football. Sixteen-year-olds and 45-year-olds share the field, play hard and have fun. This is my 30th year in the PVC Parra team, I have been playing since I was 17 and I don’t think I am going to stop for sometime at least,” says 47-year-old Claudio Pacheco, with a wide grin on his face. Pacheco’s introduction in the second half is greeted by loud cheers, and the veteran makes an instant impact on the game. He threads a neat pass to his energetic young striker and the fleet-footed boy makes no mistake, emphatically placing the ball into the back of the net to give his side victory.
After the match, talk invariably veers to the “good old days”. Pacheco swaps tales of intense rivalry between villages, dribbling on ferries and brawls with the referees. The sun begins to dip, but the stories will go on for a while.
This story appeared in print under the headline Go Goa Goal