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Success Stories

Other successes include: F C Kochin

Kerala State League
1998, 1st
1999, 1st
2004, 2nd

Full name: Football Club Kochin

Nickname(s): FC Kochin

Kerala State Championship
1997

Founded: 1997

Central Railway Open
1998

Ground : Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi, Kerala
(Capacity: 60,000)

All India Central Revenue Cup
1999

President : P V Paul 

Manager : K.J.Varoo

The Durand Cup win by the country's first professional football club is a signal that a game stuck for so long in an amateur pose now has a rich future.

There is no game on the face of this planet like football. In which other sport can a miracle in Delhi cause a revolution 3,000 km away in Kerala?

This is the story of FC Kochin. Of how the winning of a cup on an afternoon when the heat seemed to embrace Delhi in a sweaty hug, led to children in Kerala contemplating packing up their bats and fishing out football boots that were gathering moss in their cupboards.

This is not just a story, it's more a fairy tale. Where Bengali fans, who live, swear, shout and die by their teams, actually bellowed "Vijayan, Vijayan" as the Malayali star -- whose lanky, seemingly uncoordinated body belies a dancing athleticism -- lifted the Durand Cup. Where the papers back home in Kerala gave less inches of newsprint to Arundhati Roy's winning of the Booker Prize, splashing the team's 3-1 victory over Mohun Bagan on the front pages. Malayala Manorma associate editor Thomas Jacob was clear: "Arundhati's prize was indeed a momentous event. But FC Kochin's win was one of the greatest moments for Malayalis."

But this was not a match whose winning merely silenced critics. It was a signal that a game stuck for so long in an amateur pose now has a professional future; and that Indian soccer could possibly be shifting its moorings from Bengal to Kerala.

Formed with in an year, FC Kochin is unique. It's India's first professional club whose motto is "a new approach to the game". Here is a club that has finally turned its back on that primitive world of Indian football where players stayed in dingy hotels, wore threadbare kit, travelled second class by train, and where a club official once looked stupefied when P.K. Banerjee (Former Olympian) suggested a geyser be installed in the dressing room.

In FC Kochin everything is first class (it helps that 50 per cent of their annual expenditure is met by sponsors United Breweries). Adidas shoes and jerseys were imported from Qatar. These included special light clothing to suit warm conditions here. For tournaments the team travels by plane and lives in air-conditioned comfort.

It's not all talk. Senior players command anywhere between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 12 lakh a season. At their headquarters in Kochi they are provided with plush flats. Goalkeeper Sumit Mukherjee, the first soccer immigrant from Bengal to the south, can't believe his luck: I'm proud."

The players train six days a week, hit the gym slightly less often, and the Fort Kochi beach occasionally for fun workouts. But for all the discipline and free-flowing style of Coach George Blues (Scotland) propagates, it is the absence of a financial burden that keeps their heads clear. As I.M.Vijayan admits, "There's a lot of pressure while playing for Calcutta clubs. Here they don't think of money. They just tell you to go and play."

It is a professionalism that is being reflected on the field. It has also forced the rest of India to confront its amateurism. Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, president of the All India Football Federation, says, almost cruelly: "In Calcutta it's just shamateurism." If a host of players from Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have already started clogging the phone lines to Kerala, Calcutta itself is wondering how long it can keep throwing around that worn-out cliche, "Mecca of Football". Momentum doesn't shift easily but even Banerjee can smell change in the muggy Calcutta air: "There is a polarisation taking place. What happened in the Durand is a setback for Calcutta but good for soccer." Even passionate fan support, once a Calcutta institution, could in time become a Kerala prerogative. When FC Kochin played Bahrain champions West Rifa in the Scissors Cup at Kozhikode recently, 25,000 fans were left waiting outside the stadium for want of space.

The floodgates have opened," says former Kochi mayor K.J. Sohan (politicians pontificating on football -- this sounds like Italy). Like everyone, he, resident of a state that always had pretensions of being an Indian soccer power, has reason to preen; but sensibly Kerala has not stopped at that. The Durand Cup was the catalyst; development is now in full swing. Already reports are filtering in of another professional club being set up.

"It's a welcome sign. The European analogies are not flippant either: FC Kochin, following the tradition of clubs like Manchester United, are planning to start a nursery, where young boys, labeled apprentices, are picked up, trained, the weak weeded out and the strong retained.



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