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 continued…