KOCHI: What ails women in Kerala football is what has ailed them in general for an eternity. Fighting gender stereotypes and denied opportunities, these women live a life of constant struggle.
However, there was a time not long ago when Kerala women were a force to reckon with in Indian football. But a change in administration of the women’s game in 1991 was when, to at least a few, things went wrong.
The game has been spiralling down ever since the merger of women’s football associations with the All India Football Federation. In Kerala too, the powers that be cared not much for the women’s cause.
“We had national tournaments like Federation Cup during the 1980s and ‘90s. But since the turn of the millennium, tournaments dried up and the women’s game paid the price,” says M Fousiya, a Kerala State Sports Council coach.
The startling inequality is nowhere more evident than at the sub-junior and junior levels where no state championship has been conducted by the Kerala Football Association (KFA) for long.
“Only four or five districts will be able to field full strength teams even if such a championship is held now,” says P V Priya, head coach of the Indian under-19 women’s national team.
Under the circumstances, prior to sub-junior and junior national championships, quite simply, an open trials is conducted to pick teams that will represent Kerala. Fousiya, Priya and other coaches feel that change has to be gradual. “There are many factors that pull girls back from taking up football,” says Priya. “First, there are no departmental teams in Kerala that promise employment for women,” she says.
Soccer Girls, a team from Vallikkunnu in Malappuram district that contributed 11 players for Kerala in the 35th National Games, is an ideal example of the downfall of women’s football initiatives.
“The team based at Chandan Brothers HSS has virtually been non-existent for the past three years,” says Harikumar P, Soccer Girls co-founder and president.
“During that time, we have lost the support of the school, Vallikkunnu panchayat and the Sports Council,” he adds.
An under-representation of women’s football in the sport’s governing body is also seen as a reason for the downfall. “No one raises our opinions with the top echelons of Kerala football,” says Fousiya, pointing out that no woman representative has a place in KFA’s general body or executive committee.
However, there might still be light at the end of the tunnel. KFA’s women’s Kerala Premier League, launched last year, could well be a start.
“We started with eight teams in the inaugural edition. But, for the new season, we will have 14 clubs,” says P Anilkumar, the KFA general secretary.
Also, initiatives like Kovalam Women’s Football Club and Academy, and the Sports Authority of India lending support to Vanitha Sports Academy in Namakuzhy, Kottayam, provide rays of hope. The state government’s decision to send girls’ team for the National Schools Games is also expected to address grassroots development.
“We have not found any difficulty in running academies for girls,” says Arun K Nanu, chairman of Sports and Education Promotion Trust (SEPT) that runs two football nurseries for girls. “However, lack of finding qualified coaches with playing background is a challenge,” he says. Priya feels change cannot be achieved overnight. “Many girls playing football at college level come from other sports. More schools teaching the sport could bring that cultural change,” she adds.
St Joseph's College, Irinjalakuda
After running a women's football team for over a decade, St Joseph's College was recently named as a sports hostel by KSSC and the first batch is expected to begin next academic year. At present, 16 footballers are part of the training here including two who represented Kerala in the 35th National Games. St Joseph's are also back-to-back champions in the Calicut University championship . Physical Education Department head Stalin Raphel serves as the coach.
Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla
Mar Thoma College was picked up by Kerala State Sports Council under the college sports hostel scheme four years ago. Amritha Aravind, a Sports Council coach is assigned to the centre. Kerala Women's Footballer of the Year Nikhila T is among six players under the KSSC scheme while another six receive training with assistance from the college management. The college, representing Pathanamthitta, finished runners up in the inaugural Kerala Women's Premier League earlier this year going down to hosts Wayanad Football Club 2-0.
Kunjuraman Memorial HS, Mevelloor
The Vanitha Sports Academy was established in 2011 at the Kunjuraman Memorial HS in Namakuzhy in Kottayam. Thirty girls, studying from upper primary classes to college levels, are trained by coach Jomon Joseph. The academy has been upgraded to an extension centre of the Sports Authority of India recently. “We are representing Kerala it the upcoming SAI inter-regional football tournament,” says Jomon. The centre also has plans to organise an all-Kerala football league for women later this year and are the first to launch a girls futsal team.
SEPT Centres at Kozhikode
SEPT, already a success in nurturing footbal talent among boys, ventured into women’s football in 2013. It runs two centres for girls — one at the Christian College Ground within the city and another in the village of Kallanode. “Since starting the centres, we have been receiving good response to the scheme,” says Anitha Rajan, president of SEPT’s women’s football wing. Twenty-eight girls at the city centre and 18 at the Kallanode centre are trained by SEPT coaches. India under-14 international Aparna Roy is one such product.
Football training centres for girls in the state
Govt VHSS, Nadakkavu, Kozhikode
Twenty girls train at the school under KSSC’s day boarding scheme while another 20 are taken under the Physical Education Department’s assistance. Training under Sports Council coach M Fousiya, they represented Kerala in last year’s Subroto Cup International Football Tournament at New Delhi after winning the Kerala leg. It was at Nadakkavu that four-time KFA player of the year Nikhila T was unearthed.
Ayyankali Memorial Government Model Residential Sports School, Vellayani, Thiruvananthapuram
The Ayyankali Sports School run by the Scheduled Caste Development Department has represented Kerala it the Subroto Cup International Football Tournament 2013 in New Delhi. The residential school has 25 girls who are trained by Sports Council coach Masil Devanand. “The girls enjoy benefits including free food, football kit and coaching,” says Sunu Lal, sports officer of the school. Seven students who graduated from the school were admitted to the KSSC sports hostel at Mar Thoma College this academic year.
Kovalam Women's Football Academy, Thiruvananthapuram
The Kovalam Women's Football Club and Academy is run by the Kovalam Football Foundation. Having been launched only earlier this year, Kovalam just missed out on a semi final berth in the Kerala Women's Premier League bowing out to Kollam on head-to-head count. They have around 45 footballers aged between 9 and 26 years trained by former Kerala footballer Ebin Rose at the University Stadium.