KOZHIKODE:As Kerala in their blue and white shirts strode out to warm up before taking on Tamil Nadu at the EMS Corporation Stadium on Sunday, nervousness was writ large on the faces of people tasked with running the game in these parts.
Kerala’s inaugural game against Maharashtra had seen a turnout beyond their wildest dreams – almost 40,000 people had turned up to support the hosts.
It has been a winter of renaissance for Indian football with the Indian Super League drawing in cricket-esque crowds, but the following months had proved that little had changed elsewhere. The Federation Cup was played out before empty grounds, while Bengaluru FC pulled in a few thousand in their I-League home opener. But here was the Games, featuring arguably the third tier of players in the country, drawing more than most ISL venues!
It was a throwback to those golden days when any football match in Kozhikode was box-office gold — old timers fondly remember a full-house at a Nehru Cup semifinal between Syria and Nigeria in 1987.
V Umar, competition manager of the men’s football events and long-time football promoter in the city, though was composed. “They will come. People tend to wander into the stadiums as dusk falls,” he proclaimed confidently. By the time, the two teams walked off at halftime, Umar looked around and counted more than 25,000 people. Meanwhile, Kerala edged past Tamil Nadu 1-0 after an extra-time winner by VP Suhair.