With the World Cup set to kick off on Thursday in Moscow, Brazilia Shamsudheen, a resident of Kozhikode in Kerala, over 6,000 km away from the Russian capital, hopes her favourite team will emerge champions in the quadrennial football extravaganza. “The abundantly talented Brazil will win the World Cup easily this time,” said Brazilia, 35, who runs a boutique – Brazi’s Fusion – in Kozhikode.

Brazilia, who prefers to go by her first name, says she is a born Brazil fan. “My team preference is etched in my name,” she said. “Hence, I cannot even think of supporting any other team.”

Her maternal uncle Shareef, a die-hard Brazil rooter, gave her the unusual name. “After my birth, relatives searched for a name that began with letter B as my sister’s name is Badariya,” she said. “Their search ended when my uncle suggested the name ‘Brazilia.’”

Brazilia is proud of her name. “I get noticed wherever I go thanks to my name,” she said. She believes it even helped her win a civic body election in October 2010, which made her a member of the Kozhikode Corporation. The election was held three months after Brazil lost the quarter-final of the World Cup in South Africa.

Brazilia contested as an independent candidate from Mukhadar ward of the civic corporation, with the support of the Indian Union Muslim League. She defeated her nearest rival by a margin of 1,286 votes. “I polled more votes in the football crazy neighbourhood of Ninan Valappu,” she said. “Fans who had placed their bets against Brazil in the World Cup just three months before voted for me.”

Football fans in Ninan Valappu agreed. “Her name played a role in her election victory,” said NV Subair, president of the Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association.

Brazilia’s five-year-term ended in 2015. She is now one of the state secretaries of Vanitha League, the women’s wing of the Indian Union Muslim League.

A Brazilian football fan paints a wall in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
A Brazilian football fan paints a wall in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).

Crazy about football

Ninan Valappu village lies close to the Arabian Sea. Around 7,000 people live here in 500 homes. The place is believed to have got its name from the Ninan Mohammed mosque, the oldest of the six mosques here. Most of the village’s residents are either fisher people or carpenters.

Though football has been popular in Ninan Valappu, the game got wider public appeal when it was used in a drive against drug and alcohol abuse among youngsters a few years ago. “Youngsters were in the grip of drugs and alcohol two decades ago,” said Subair. “But the scenario changed after the formation of NFFA [Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association] in 1996.”

The association is an umbrella organisation of six football clubs in the village. Regularly organising coaching camps and tournaments, it provides a platform for young footballers to hone their skills. “Our initiatives drew youngsters – who would have fallen prey to drugs and alcohol – to football,” said M Shamsudheen, a member of the association. “Now we proudly say that football is the only spirit of our village.”

The combined effort of the Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association and the village’s six clubs has unearthed plenty of local talent. At present, 20 local players have donned the colours of various clubs in the Kozhikode district football association’s league championships and the state’s popular seven-a-side tournaments.

Fans and players never miss an opportunity to celebrate major football events across the globe – such as Copa America, Euro and the Champions League – and the Indian Super League back home. “But we always try to make the World Cup that comes once in four years a memorable one, and it will be no different this time,” said Subair.

Argentina fans put up this hoarding in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
Argentina fans put up this hoarding in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).

Football fever

Football fever has gripped Ninan Valappu village ahead of the June 14 kick-off. In the run up to the big day, football fans were busy erecting hoardings of their favourite teams, painting walls with their team colours and hoisting team flags in all nooks and corners of the village.

The tiny village market, which has around 15 shops, has already turned into an assembly point of football aficionados, cutting across age barriers. They gather here to eagerly discuss the chances of the teams in the fray.

Outside a fish stall, on Tuesday, 60-year-old Abdul Rahman and 28-year-old Suhail were in the midst of a heated argument. Rahman predicted a victory for Argentina. “Messi missed the cup in 2014,” he said. “He will make amends this time by helping Argentina win the title on July 15.”

Suhail, an ardent Germany fan, made a quick counter. “It is impossible,” he said. “Messi can shine only in club football. This is going to be Germany’s cup. They will show the meaning of team effort. Let’s wait and watch.”

Fifteen-year-old Misbah, found strollig through the village, threw a question at this correspondent: “Who will win the Cup?” He then went on to provide the answer himself. “This time it will be Neymar and Brazil.”

Ahmed, a fish vendor and a football player, said Argentina and Brazil enjoy the maximum fan following in the village. “You can see more blue and yellow flags and hoardings [than other colours],” he said.

The Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association will add to the excitement by screening all the World Cup matches live on giant screens at the only government school in the village from Thursday till July 15, the day of the 2018 World Cup final.

“We will also organise a mini World Cup with eight teams named after Argentina, Brazil, England, Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Germany,” said Subair. “The players, drawn from a pool of local talent, will don the respective national colours.”

Brazil fan Subair of Ninan Valappu. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
Brazil fan Subair of Ninan Valappu. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).

Booming business

Teams in the mini World Cup will get their jerseys and shorts stitched from a tailoring centre in Ninan Valappu run by two entrepreneurs – Beevi and Suhara. The tailoring unit, in a tiny room near the market, has specialised in stitching football jerseys, track suits and shorts since its launch in 2012.

The two women, both from poor families, started the unit together. They got little work in the beginning, but it soon picked up. “Football fans turned our fortunes around,” said 30-year-old Beevi. “Now we don’t have time to meet the demand. We owe our growth to football fans in Ninan Valappu.”

Subair said football helped the two poor women gain financial stability. “This is the economic impact of football,” he said.

Suhara said the next few weeks would be busy as work on World Cup jerseys had not started yet. “We have plenty of orders, so we have to work overtime from Wednesday,” she said.

Fans of the Spain football team receive the replica of the World Cup in 2010. (Photo courtesy: Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association).
Fans of the Spain football team receive the replica of the World Cup in 2010. (Photo courtesy: Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association).

Grand finale

The festivities in Ninan Valappu will culminate on July 15 when officials from the Ninan Valappu Football Fans Association will gift fans of the team that wins the World Cup a replica of the trophy. “We started this practice in 2012,” said Subair. “We cannot think of a better way to bid adieu to the month-long extravaganza.”

Children watch a football match in Ninan Valappu. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
Children watch a football match in Ninan Valappu. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
A street in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
A street in Ninan Valappu in Kozhikode. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
A wall in Ninan Valappu village is painted in the colours of prominent teams in the Word Cup. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).
A wall in Ninan Valappu village is painted in the colours of prominent teams in the Word Cup. (Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen).