Hold your breath. Unseen, unheard, football history is being made!
Meet the warriors of Thekke Kollencode, bordering Tamil Nadu. This football-crazy coastal village on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border had a club running for years. There was hardly any infrastructure, but sheer commitment to and passion for the game produced several stars.
Andrews, who donned the Indian Junior colours, Aneesh Fernandez, who made it to the Indian under-19 camp, Baiju, who reached the India under-16 camp and Edison, who almost made it to the Kerala team for Santhosh Trophy… to name a few.
Nurtured by nothing but the generous surf of the sea and tonnes of motivation, they battled on. That was when destiny anchored in the form of K Rajeev, the former Kerala University player and now manager of the SBT football team. Impressed by the immense talent and tailor-cut physique of the local boys, he got back to the city to organise support for the team.
Harikumar AS, chief coordinating officer of Asianet, M Balan, nature photographer, businessmen P Pradeep and Harikrishnan… all found time and resources to nurture the natural talent with the active support of an NRI businessman. Thirty-odd youngsters, all children of fisher folk, were picked up from SMRC, Thekke Kollencode to form the United Kerala Football Club (UKFC). Cleofas Alex, a professionally-trained coach and Physical Education Director at St. Jude’s College, Thoothoor took over the task of coaching the raw talent.
The result: A dream! UKFC was formed in 2008. After exactly a year, they have charted a glorious debut by bagging the district E Division Championship.
Several players emerged, including a stunning midfielder, Edison K. And Rajeev is sure that this boy would play for the country very soon.
The team got together to celebrate the victory at the very same ground.
What better way to celebrate than an exhibition match with the parent club – SMRC. Xavier Pious, the sterling footballer of yesteryear, turned up to motivate the boys.
Kick-off: Neither the seniors nor the young heroes have a second to relax.
Nobody seems to think of the exhibition aspect. They are going for the kill in right earnest. There is a roar from the 200-odd spectators who have gathered and we get up from the comfort of the makeshift pavilion.
It’s substitution; Out goes a senior player from SMRC. In walks a 12-year-old boy wearing orange!
That’s Kuku, a star in the making. The hero of another glorious side-story.
Thekke Kollencode is one of the venues of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) ‘Vision India’ project for school kids. The local unit won the district championship played between the schools involved in the project and Kuku was selected the player of the tournament.
As expected, UKFC scores over the seniors, who could not match the speed and stamina of the young tigers.
Xavier Pious distributes cash awards and spares a few minutes to give a few tips to the stars of tomorrow. “Why do you hold the ball so much? Chest it and pass it on; don’t let the opponents get back to position. You wasted at least half a dozen scoring opportunities. Don’t crowd midfield like this. None of you were in position to score nor defend when counter-attacked. You are not watching your teammates. Be sure where your partners are, every moment, and pass..”
They listen intently as the sun fades into a soft red and the sea beats the retreat….