Kerala shining: Blasters and Gokulam's success fuel the Indian football dream

Kerala Blasters FC's spirited Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 campaign that saw them reach the final has laid the foundation for catapulting the two Kerala clubs into beacons of Indian football.

Off late, teams from Kerala have grabbed headlines for all the right reasons including the Santosh Trophy win. The state team, playing in front of a packed 30,000-capacity Manjeri stadium symbolised the passion for football in Kerala, gradually globalised by the two clubs - Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters.

Not to forget, the emerging talent of KBFC’s reserves side recently qualified for the Premier League - ISL NextGeneration Cup to be played in the UK, owing to their stellar performance in the recently concluded Reliance Foundation Development League.

Gokulam Kerala has risen to be one of the best examples of club successes banking on local fan support. Building on the revitalisation of football in the state with Kerala Blasters, where the Nehru Stadium in Kochi regularly filled upwards of 80,000 before the pandemic, Gokulam only started half a decade ago and tapped into the growing appetite of the fans in North Kerala, in Kozhikode. Backed by owners native to Kerala, Gokulam have won 3 titles in the past 3 years - Durand Cup and two I-Leagues.

Also Read: Never played football in so much noise for so long: David James on atmosphere at Kerala Blasters FC's JLN stadium

Asia's premier football analyst, Paul Masefield feels Gokulam Kerala's success augurs well for the future of football in India, especially for a team emerging from the coastal state down south.

Kerala Blasters have made their mark globally with their vociferous fan following worldwide. Their famous 'Manjappada' fan group includes members from the Gulf, US and UK within the Indian diaspora. Their social media presence is second to none in India and comparable to fan groups of top European clubs.

Gokulam Kerala have also shown their might with two consecutive I-League titles, and commenced their inaugural AFC Cup campaign with an impressive 4-2 win over ATK Mohun Bagan.

"What an achievement from Gokulam Kerala winning back-to-back I-Leagues. If you can actually imagine that a team that has only been formed for the past 5 years can achieve this, it shows that dreams can come true. especially with Kerala Blasters going close to winning the ISL title this season, this bodes so well for the future of football in India with such a solid foundation in the state of Kerala," the former England-born footballer stated.

Masefield, who is part of the commentary panel in ISL feels Kerala is the new force to reckon with when it comes to the fan following for the sport in India. "Without doubt, Kerala as a state for me is more than capable when it comes to passionate support, of competing if not exceeding the more traditional heritage supported clubs from Bengal," says the former Birmingham City player.

"Football in Kerala has always been magnificently supported. Even with the Sevens tournaments they hold, everything is always sold out. So I believe that Gokulam Kerala with its amazing achievements can only help and add to the passion that exists in Kerala," adds the TV pundit.

Famous for producing one of India's most beloved sons of football - IM Vijayan, Kerala has now found its new generation of talent and clubs for fans to cheer on. The likes of Sahal Abdul Samad and Rahul KP symbolise Kerala Blasters’ identity. Jithin MS and Emil Benny from Gokulam Kerala signify the abundance of talent that Kerala produces.

Masefield summarises, “With two professional clubs formed in Kerala in the past 8-9 years with unwavering support and teams that strive for success, things look amazingly good for football in the state of Kerala.”

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