In football and in life, there will come few crucial moments where if you make the right move, you will be serenaded in unbridled joy, rewarded with all the jubilation you could wish for and feel like you are the epicentre of all the happiness in the world.
If you hesitate at that moment, take a step back or just fuck it up completely, all that greatness turns into a whirlpool of regret that is pulling you into this tumultuous foray of “could have been” territory.
May it be that night on Marina beach where I should have gone for the kiss or this Monday night in Kochi where CK Vineeth should have taken a shot. Regret is a dye which takes a lot of washing over to remove. And that is what most KBFC fans were left feeling. A rotten sense of regret at chances not taken and that feeling of being deflated after such an immense build-up, to what was labeled as “the game of the season”.
Plus fuck, I have to get back to save my semester by rushing into class the next morning before the instructor arrives. ( #didnthappen)
48 hours before kickoff
Three brave souls from the bohemian hostel chain to the rim of Taramani gate took on this adventure to a place far far away that we like to call – home.
Mode of transport- unknown.
Plan was I and Navus would share a berth that he got on a Tatkal, but at the last possible moment, he tells me its on waiting list. So we had to take a detour from destination fucked and look at other options. Mikey had no intentions of going home until I saw him at the chai joint and asked him if he is willing to partake in this crusade to defend the home land from the invaders from the North, and also eat beef. Yah, eat shit loads of beef. ( Which ironically is the one thing we couldn’t do.)
Mikey had to download his bowl and after a 15 minute delay we are on a bus, then a metro, and then on foot until we reached Koyambedu bus terminus. The centre of Chennai for anyone who is not from Chennai. ( Yah there is central station too, but then the nomenclature is just too perfect, isn’t it). Just in time to stream KBFC vs Pune on Navus’s phone. Pune scored and we were left frustrated at our defending as well as the criminally bad network Jio was offering inside the bus terminus. An over priced fried rice later, Kerala equalises with Nikola Krčmarević, ( Yes, I copied pasted that.) I shouted as soon as I heard the news. The homeless guy sleeping to our right curses his luck that his sleep was interrupted by 3 guys who he thought couldn’t understand the swearing he was aiming at us , unfortunately for him. Swearing was my Tamil 101 during first year.
Our plan was to go vagabonding till we cross the border. Saw the first Coimbatore bus and we are fortunate enough to find the last 3 seats unreserved for us. ( Only if KBFC had that sorta luck in front of goal.) The trip to Kovai was uneventful, other than the fact that a virus had infected us. See, this has been going on for a while, but this virus consummated in us listening to it through the night. It’s a Malayalam song that we deserve, but not the one we need right now. I will leave the link below. See for yourself.
Pri song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cpNTArPhBM
With that pathogen making our immune system palpable to musical inspiration of that nature. We started coming up with chants for the game on Monday. Usually by changing a word or two in a Malayalam song and replacing it with a players name or the name of the club. It works. Trust me, most club chants are either nursery rhymes or choir songs. All the bards and wordsmiths from the stands take inspiration from Blah blah black sheep and glory glory hallelujah.
Next morning and we are breathing in the Kovai air which has 60% less particulate matter than Chennai. Again a quick download by Mikey and we are on a bus to Thrissur. And a quick bite of the most flaccid “ pazhampozhi” that I have seen in my life and we are en route to where the magic happens – Kochi.
A journey which should have taken 13 hours takes 20. That’s why kids, always book tickets before hand. I turn on the AC and hit the bed. I have work this evening, don’t I ?
24 hours before kickoff
I trace back the alleys which I used to cycle through when I was a child. “Those were the day, when hard work forever pays, now I see you in a better place.”
Okay chuck that sentence, rap lyrics don’t make sense there. But I know to get to the stadium through a narrow alley way that most people don’t know, unless they grew up behind the stadium like me. I was so fortunate to grow up there, but unfortunate that there wasn’t any football being played inside around the time I got into the game. But that has changed now and I text my mate Manu. He told me come around 4 30 ish and we can talk.
So Manu is a key character in this story. We go back to the time I was studying in Bharat Mata College, Thrikkakara. The only class room where I walked in with a smile every morning. ( Over the course of a long duration, that was the best atmosphere and the best people I have had the honour of spending time with). Manu and I shared a lot of passions. We were both lovers of football, and I mean proper football. I mean premier league football. I mean Arsenal and Man Utd respectively. He was also a very good bowler and was in the college cricket team. He is the sort of guy you knew would follow his passion and be successful at it. And when KBFC came, he was a really key figure in the Manjappada ( KBFC fan Club) activities. Around that time, I was marshalling LFLC( Let’s football let’s cleanup) and we tried to co-op to a certain degree of success. After I left for Chennai, Manu was still leading the line in Kerala for the yellow army and making sure no away fan walks out of Kochi without booking an appointment with his Otolaryngologist ( I copied-pasted that too). Now he works with Wipro, watching matches when his bosses have left the office and making sure Manjappada’s message goes out far and wide.
So I waltz around Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium aka “The Yellow Fortress”. That childhood nostalgia comes back to wet them eyes again. From learning to cycle around this behemoth, to that evening walks with Achan when he used to work here, and trying to find a ground to play at 6 in the morning around the stadium before the land mafia started growing apartments around the place. This place has a lot of memories. And who can forget Sushant Mathew’s goal. Still better than an orgasm.
I find Manu, purposefully siting with his Manjappada mates. It’s been a long time since I have seen him. If I remember correct it was in season 3. He is a relic of a life that I gave up hoping for something better. I still don’t know if that was the right decision, but he was still the same person. Football, football and more football. That’s what the build of Martin Garrix’s next hits should be.
He guides me through the plans for the day. He said there was a dude from Star Sports coming to do an interview of Manjappada. Which meant I had to wait till I get to interview Manu for the blog. Survival of the richest. :p
The Manjappada’s chanting brigade was in song. There was a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask. And guess what, the match was on the 5th of November. I don’t think the Gunfire treason is the reason why he wears it, but it looks cool regardless. The social psychological theory says that when people lose their individual identity and together form a collective identity. People tend to do things which they otherwise wouldn’t, since the individual consequences get diluted in the collective anonymity of the crowd.
I’m overanalysing, the guy just wore a fucking mask. And he also had a drum with it. The kind of ones you see your church band playing. And the boys start singing the chants. All distinctively aimed at Bengaluru and West block.
A good one being “ As the blues go shaggin in”. The metronome is set by the drum and the chorus taken over by our mallu accented “shaggings”. Honestly, I see it like we are complementing them on their success in the sexual sphere ( which for all my Bengaluru mates who left Kochi, is true).
But the small band of brothers are putting out some good chants, my favourite being the Malayalam one – “ Manjappadanne, nammal onn anne”. It was unique and has a feel good, uplifting vibe to it. I had borrowed Achan’s iPad and was taking footage in that. That’s when the Star Sports dude and I met. His name is Athish and you probably would have seen him on the show “ Football United” on Star Sports. He is a really nice dude. And an Arsenal fan. These days, you have to be of a certain age to follow United or Arsenal unfortunately. He asked me if he can use my footage and I obliged, I was more than happy to share the passion of the greatest club on earth( Let’s not get ahead of ourselves Yadu).
Then I join in with the boys while chanting, that is why you came here man. For that moment of losing yourself in the atmosphere of supporting you club. I can’t wait till tomorrow, when this rehearsal will compound itself exponentially into an uproar that will constrict every hair follicle on the back of my neck making it stand up in salute at this expression of joy and passion for the beautiful game.
Something unexpected, Atish asks me if I am down for an interview. I was slightly reluctant as this is the first time in 2 years that I am in Kochi for a match. These Manjappada Machans come for more or less all the matches and if anyone’s voice deserves to be heard. It is these Machans. But Atish insisted and Manu was also sort of OK with it. And so I did the interview.
This was not the first time I was in front of the lens of a Star Sports Cam. I think in season 1 or 2, Leeza Mangaldas interviewed us for LFLC. ( She was and still is – “ a dream” Athish has footage of me saying that :p). Then ensued a series of questions and answers which I think I gobbled up and the end result ( at that point of time) was me, scratching my legs due to mosquito skirmishes and my grammar and articulation being as disorganised as United’s defence this season.
But the editor is a god who can make anyone look good, and the final product came out really well. Nothing too funny or embarrassing ( Other than my grammar, there is no Grammarly in real life Yadu)
THE LINK OF THE PRE MATCH PROGRAM
And with that my pre-match reporting is over. I came over to interview Manu and ended up got being interviewed instead.
MANJAPPADA : “All that’s good about my state”
It literally translates to “ Yellow Army”. But all the North Indians narrating Star Sports can’t pronounce the “ Nja” properly. ( If you do, Porotta and beef deep fry on me) It was formed in 2014 when a dude named Subin Mathew from Alapuzha started a page for Kerala Blaster fans. Then the page got “ Malluised” when it’s name changed to Manjappada. The pioneering event was when the group welcomed the team at the airport. It grew from there and in season two where there were 50 Whatsapp groups across 14 districts and abroad, exchanging ideas and connecting fans from all strata of society. In Season two, there was also a protest against the poor player acquisition and mis-management of the team. Firmly letting the people who run the club know that it is their duty to keep the fans opinions also in check while running a club. The hierarchy is very well defined and Manu says anyone who is willing to work hard enough can get to the very top. All the top positions are refreshed every year democratically and each district has enough autonomy to bring innovation into creating the fan atmosphere. May it be making chants or designing choreos for match day.
The Manjappada stand came into being in season 3. Starting with flexes, then evolving into cloth based banners. And there are some really creative ones at that. (have a look)
The role model that Manjappada looks upto is an another set of fans who lie on the same wavelength on the visible spectrum of radiation as well on the same wavelength when it comes to passion and turning up in huge numbers . Borussia Dortmund fans. Dortmund has more than one ultra group ( Desperados, Unity) who make the Signal Igunda Park turn into the beehive that it is on match days.
We are a really really long way from that level of an atmosphere, but it always helps to keep the bar up very high.
This level of involvement from the fans didn’t go unrecognised. A tangible honour was awarded when the Indian sports honours awarded Manjappada with the title of “ Fan club of the year”.
Beating, guess who ? West Block Blues ( Bengaluru FC fan club).
When the stadium became Noah’s arc
August of 2018 would go down as the most testing and as well as the proudest moment in every Malayali’s life. When nature turned against us, flooding the state in unprecedented magnitude. We had nowhere to turn but ourselves. And there was only one question on our minds – What can I do to help?
I would have to say, everyone. Absolutely everyone, from the Government to pre-schoolers gave everything we could to help and the solidarity and the sense of oneness which that tragedy has brought to our lives is something which will be never forgotten. And the stadium became a rally point for the relief efforts where supplies were being collected and a helpline was set up to coordinate the rescue efforts. These are the moments that transcends football and we rise up to something above that. And a collective such as Manjappada gave a lot of people who were looking for a platform to join in to help, an option. And a great option at that.
One thing which makes Manjappada unique and which I believe is our biggest strength is the reach of the Mallu diaspora around the world. Let’s be honest, KBFC has the highest away support for any club in the country. Not because fans make the trip from Kerala to Delhi or Kolkata, but because the mallu diaspora which is spread across the country and the world makes sure everyone is down to watch a game. I believe it is the first time that a secular, apolitical entity has come to be, where every Mallu, from Russia to “Gelf” can stand behind something which we identify as one. And that oneness was used to great effect while collecting donations for the Chief ministers relief fund from across the world. Again, something which began from football, transcends all that at a time of crisis.
We would also like to thank our brothers in Chennai and Bengaluru who also contributed to the relief efforts during the floods in Kodagu and Kerala. And we want to you know, we always have your backs.
Rivals, not enemies.
This season’s first match commemorated the fishermen who were the first responders and the only assistance to the many people who got stuck in their houses when the grid failed. The armed forces were also commemorated and this is how, slowly the club and the fans are building a culture where it goes beyond football and is slowly trying to create a collective identity using the club. These small but significant gestures from the clubs side is crucial. This banner tells the story much better than I can.
The way in which the Indian blind football team was honoured is also an example of how football and the positive emotions and investments it creates can be used to further a socially relevant cause.
This is why I think why it is imperative to develop a fan culture where multifarious groups can stand behind a club as one and develop a better ingrained society where differences are celebrated and the “ us “ vs “them “ paradigm are not based on things which are not within our control like religion and ethnicity, but on something less communal like football. Class and caste unregarded, religion and region irrelevant. When you scream for the blasters, we all scream as one.
AND WE ARE GOING TO SCREAM TOGETHER TOMORROW. KB, KBF, KBFC, OLE
To be continued…………..