From makeshift grounds on river beds and harvested paddy fields, Kerala’s football craze has entered a new turf in a big way. Artificial turf fields have sprung up in cities as well as villages, mostly in north Kerala, where football players sweat it out night after night under the floodlights.
The state has around 500 artificial turfs, of which 150 are in Kozhikode district, erected and managed by local men, mostly Gulf returnees. Players, who once used to rush to dusty village grounds, book time slots in the verdant turf and pool money for rent every night. As cities and towns in the countryside have more than one turf to choose from, there is a round of bargaining over rent before fixing the turf.
Former Indian footballer I M Vijayan said turf football is a major change in the state’s game arena. “These turfs would see emergence of a new breed of players. When traditional playgrounds are shrinking, soccer turfs would fill the gap to a certain extent. Players of any age can use such ground during night in any season,’’ he said.
What is being played in these turfs are sevens — seven players in each team as opposed to the traditional 11 — and fives, which has five players in a side. The sevens last for an hour as against the 90-minute traditional eleven. Some turfs are meant only for fives, while others are big enough for both sevens and fives.
At Elettil, 24 km from Kozhikode, Maracana Football Turf is milling with players at 9 pm. Started five months ago by six football lovers who returned from the Gulf, the turf is used for both sevens and fives.
“We are passionate about football and there is a mix of business and passion behind our venture. While in the Middle East, we used to play turf football. We thought about introducing the same back home. There are half-a-dozen turfs in the neighbouring villages. We charge Rs 700 to
Rs 1,000 per team for a game. Slots are booked from 7 pm to midnight. Competitions are sponsored by traders or NRIs from the region,’’ said Muhammed Ali, a turf owner.
North Kerala districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur, where football legends are demigods, have around 400 turfs. Artificial turfs are imported from China, Vietnam, Switzerland and New Zealand. The cost of erecting a turf is around Rs 50 lakh.
While cities have several turfs, some of the villages are not far behind. Pannicode, a village in Kozhikode, has three turfs, two of them for fives. Eyeing 900-odd local sevens’ tournaments that happen in a year, mostly in north Kerala, some turf owners are planning to erect galleries.
Sports flooring firm Guess 9 Sports Floor owner P Surendran said this trend is fast catching up, mainly in north Kerala. His firm erected around 100 football turfs in the last two years. Most turfs host five to six games a night. If there is a steady flow of players, a turf can earn Rs 2 lakh as rent in a month. And the young players, once exposed to turf football, are reluctant to go back to the dusty grounds, he said.
Muhammed Shijil, who runs a turf at Therattammal in Malappuram, said: “There are regular players at our turf, some of them also frequent the local grounds. I don’t think the regular football grounds will die. The turf will bring a new batch of footballers. Players come as teams and pool money for the rent.”
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