Kottayam (Kerala), Dec 2 (IANS) Hooting is to the residents of Kerala what booing is to the rest of the world. In fact, one might argue that being the subject of hoots would be more embarrassing than being booed at. City Club Kalara were subjected to a few of these from what technically their home crowd at the Red Bull Battle for State "Mega Finals."
The semi-finals and the final of the Panchayat level volleyball tournament in Kerala were held on Sunday evening at the ground of the St Thomas Church in the small town of Kalara in Kottayam district. The first semi-final was between City Club, which locals here say has been around for nearly two decades, and Priya Hemadangu from Angamaly, the town which forms the northernmost boundary of the city of Kochi.
The occasion had all the makings of a local sports event -- temporary stands, free entry for spectators, about two hours of speeches before the start of the matches by a local MLA and a few other dignitaries among other things. The contents of the speeches were as predictable as they were identical -- congratulatory messages to the organisers, lament on the growing influence of cellphones that is deterring kids from sports, some overt and layered self-promotion.
With Red Bull came the free energy drinks and a DJ system with a hype man in TV presenter and VJ Clince Varghese. Add to that a female chenda group, another local music group and a trio of break dancers and the cauldron is almost complete.
The only ingredients to be added of course are the matches themselves and some alcohol.
The capacity crowd that had collected was a varied one -- there were a few wisened old timers, many of whom have themselves played the sport at some level in their younger days, and a number of teenagers whose gangly arms flew everywhere whenever the bass-heavy music was played.
When that was not happening, the youngsters were giving the older people in the crowd some competition in shouting out advice to the players. A quarter of the stands was reserved for women.
Opinion on the crowd watching those matches varied from person to person. There were those who said that the fact that announcements were made continuously around the town for two days prior to the tournament and the fact that it was a Sunday evening helped. Others, mostly the elderly, more skeptical folk who only know the town too well, said that people were here with the sole purpose of getting drunk and creating a ruckus.
Alcohol was flowing through the crowd, albeit discreetly. With each passing set, the typical smell that can only come from an inebriated person's breath grew stronger. There was no ruckus in the crowd though, neither was there any problems in keeping them focussed on the match. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Every spike and service was preceded by calls of "adikyada!(hit it)" or "potikyada!(blast it)" and every save came with pleads of "rekshikyada mone!(save it, son)."
They were there to watch the game and not a team, which may have helped in keeping the peace. But it also meant that the 'home' team got more sticks than cheers even when they were playing well. They collected five points on the bounce at the start of the game and hardly any of them garnered any cheers but when the opposition team caught up and eventually overtook them, the crowd seemed to be drawn in.
In those early exchanges in fact, it was the opposition team that got more cheers. One didn't need to ask why as someone from the crowd loudly pointed out for the benefit of their own companion they are "nammude (our) Kerala Blasters" due to the colour of the jersey that the team was wearing.
However, those who turned up for the City Club were hardly bothered by the partisan response of the crowd. Fahadh, who played as a middle blocker for the team, explained that it would have been a different story had the crowd known any of the players. "This team has been formed only for these matches," he said.
Himself a resident of Ernakulam, Fahadh said that the players, all of whom are active in the state and national level championships, never expected the crowd to get behind them if they were losing a match. "They are here because they like watching the game. If they were supporting the opposite team it is because they were playing well," he said.
"I have seen worse. We players know what kind of crowd we can expect depending upon the area we are playing in. People here are still nice, there are places where hands and legs do get involved."
For the players, Fahadh said it is all about getting to play. "For us, this is just another tournament. We always try to find places and tournaments to play," he said. Fahadh works at customs in Kochi, whom he also represents in the state championships.
The players were a kaleidoscope coming from different backgrounds. There was a man who ran a grocery store in his town when he is not playing, another who was a B.Com student and loved playing the guitar as much as playing volleyball. Most of the younger players were in fact pursuing higher studies. The older players they have seen over the years and their struggles were enough to convince them that despite the cult like following the game commands in some parts of the state, depending upon volleyball as a source of income is not a good idea.