How a district in Kerala divides into three during FIFA World Cup
The historical region of Malappuram is in international headlines for how its identity divides into three - Brazil, Argentina and Portugal - once in every 4 years.
Malappuram: India might still be at a fair distance from the FIFA World Cup, but the southernmost state of Kerala is in international football headlines as the 'world's greatest show' begins in Qatar on Sunday.
To understand Kerala's FIFA World Cup soul, you need to travel to the northern city of Malappuram. A historical centre for Hindu-Vedic learning and Islamic philosophy, the region is usually known for its vibrant temples, mosques and spectacular rural festivals. Once in every four years, however, the city is torn into three - Portugal, Argentina and Brazil.
In adjacent Kozhikode district, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar 'doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus' over paddy fields.
Portugal, Argentina and Brazil are undoubtedly the mammoths that have gigantic fan followings in 'God's own country'. Amongst the current generation, this is mainly because of the influence of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. But, that has not always been the case. The question begs that how did this state become one of the few football fanatic regions in a cricket-crazy country?
Though this question has many answers, the Portuguese influence during their sojourn here is certainly one of them. The golden generations of Pele and Diego Maradona also had a huge role in gathering support for the Latin America countries.
The Malabar, which comprises parts of Thrissur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur, Kasaragod, Malappuram and other regions, contributes massively to Kerala's sporting identity.
During the FIFA World Cup, this identity is manifested in huge murals, huge cut-outs, and banners of Portugal, Argentina and Brazil. There are even houses clad in colours of their favourite nation.
Mohammed Yasir, an ardent supporter of Brazil, talks about how his love for the Canaries began. "I heard about the World Cup for the first time in 2002. My father, a die-hard fan of Brazil, used to watch the World Cup at a tea shop which stayed open at night. I forced him to take me to watch the final. Brazil won 2-0 against Germany and it was hard for me to resist the likes of Ronald and Kaka," he said.
Martin John, another Brazil fan, said, "Brazil's playing style leaves no other option but to support them."
All fans The Bridge spoke to said fan fights and arguments do happen in the heat of the moment, but that 'the beautiful game' is an unifying entity at the end of the day. Different fan clubs often arrange screenings together in Malappuram as well as the rest of Kerala.
Like in the case of Haris Habil, who is usually not in the Lionel Messi camp, but for whom during the World Cup, there is only one God.
"I'm a huge fan of Real Madrid and it is very unusual for a Madrid supporter to be a fan of Messi. I like to watch the Argentina games for obvious reasons (laughs), he made me a fan. The 2014 World Cup is still a pain. We came so close but lost in the final, I hope we make it this time".
Meanwhile, Portugal fans have been busy ensuring that the biggest cut-outs in the state are reserved for their icon Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar is in the news for completely other reasons, but if he casts an eye towards Kozhikode, he would find gigantic support.
In Kozhikode, a 59-feet cutout of Ronaldo has been erected already. In Kasaragod, a fan club is set to erect the tallest cutout - a 155-feet Ronaldo. Can some other fan club step up and make an even bigger one? We'll just have to wait and see how this rivalry plays out as the World Cup goes on!
La Furia Roja and The Red Devils
While Kerala's heart is clearly torn into three, recent years have seen some other countries also gain some traction. Sanal Jose, a Spain supporter, insisted he fell in love with their team due to their playing style.
"I accidentally watched the Spain vs Germany semifinal in the 2010 World Cup. I didn't have a TV then, so I couldn't follow up on that but I was fascinated by the way La Rojas play, their brand of football is fantastic!"
Spanish support and Belgian fans in Kannur
"We all started watching players like Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne. We wondered which country they hailed from. This is how some like-minded people came together," said Safeer, a part of the group which supports Belgium.