‘Govt has ruined the Parade ground, Fort Kochi’s football legacy,’ says Kochi's 'football uncle'

In a conversation with TNIE, Football Uncle, as Rufus is fondly called, talks about his love affair with the beautiful game, and more…
‘Govt has ruined the Parade ground, Fort Kochi’s football legacy,’ says Kochi's 'football uncle'

KOCHI: Even after over half a century of coaching football at the historic Parade Ground in Fort Kochi, Rufus D’Souza, a former player who spearheaded the attacks of the erstwhile Thiru-Kochi and Madras state teams, is not one bit tired. In fact, the 92-year-old is brimming with energy and is the first to arrive at the ground every morning — at 5.30am — come rain or shine.

In a conversation with TNIE, Football Uncle, as Rufus is fondly called, talks about his love affair with the beautiful game, and more…

How did your interest in football blossom?

I hail from a sports family. My mother was a basketball player and my father, a hockey player. They used to have arguments about what sport I should play. Once, my grandmother, whom I called Nana, had to intervene. She asked me, ‘Rufus, what would you like to play?’. That moment is still etched in my mind. I told her, ‘Nana, I would like to play football.’ That’s how it began. And later, I was baptised on the local grounds. Subsequently, I started playing hockey as well.

When did you start harbouring professional ambitions?

I loved to play football. But the thing is, only the seniors got to play on our local grounds. We kids used to sit on the sidelines and wait for them to leave for their beedi break for a chance to play.

It was only when K M Abu, whom we call Abookka, invited me to join his club, the Youngsters Sports Club on Princess Street, that I started to take the game seriously. I was 14 then, and I played for them until 1959.

Later, I played for several national-level clubs, and eventually, the Thiru-Kochi and Madras state teams.

Rufus D’Souza | a sanesh
Rufus D’Souza | a sanesh

When did you start coaching?

In 1970. I had then just returned to Cochin after a long stint with various clubs, primarily in Madras. I wanted to practise hockey, and so headed to the ground every morning. One day, a neighbour, Mrs D’Costa, asked me if I could teach her son football. I agreed. That’s how it began. It was also the same time I got selected for the Kerala hockey team. On learning this news, a lot of youngsters in the area expressed interest in training under me. That’s how it began. It was the first football coaching camp in Kerala.

Your thoughts on recent renovations at Parade ground?

What renovations? They have ruined the ground. They should have consulted somebody. The entire ground is ruined. A great portion of it has been turned into a parking lot. How tragic!

I have not set foot on this ‘ground’ they have created. I never will. We play on the ground adjacent to it. Even that is poorly maintained. Often, my boys have to pick up alcohol bottles and garbage before playing. Nobody is concerned. The few who do, hold meetings. That’s it. There’s no action taken. Imagine, this is the very place that birthed many football players. Today, that legacy is in tatters.

In my opinion, the ground should be transferred from the possession of the revenue Department to the Cochin United Club, like how it once was. Or a sports committee should be constituted to take care of the ground’s affairs. It cannot remain with the government. That much is very clear!

What are your thoughts about the ISL and the newly formed Kerala Super League?

How are these benefitting the local players? These leagues, run like a business, are ruining the game and any interest for it. Most of their teams are filled by foreign players, whom their very country and club have abandoned. Why must we entertain them when we already have an abundance of talent?

Football culture, and by that, I mean the interest to play the game, has waned in the state because there are fewer clubs today than there were only a few decades ago. Also, fewer tournaments at the national level.

Hell, there are not even proper grounds to play on these days.

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