//Beckham, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zidane – all in Malappuram

Beckham, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zidane – all in Malappuram

By Sanu George

Malappuram (Kerala), June 3 (IANS) With barely a week for the kick-off of the Football World Cup in Germany, thousands of miles away in this football-mad Kerala town the excitement is reaching fever pitch.

Huge cut-outs of players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Zidane, Rooney and Beckham and national flags of Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany and Britain are fluttering on roads and street corners in this coastal town in north Kerala.

Malappuram is considered to have the most football crazy fans in Kerala and as the month-long World Cup – where 32 teams will fight for glory – gets under way in Munich June 9, people here too are getting into the swing of things.

Manjalamkuzhi Ali, legislator from the Mankada assembly constituency of Malappuram district, said unlike previous years this time the World Cup celebrations had begun soon after the election results of last month's assembly polls were announced.

Ali, who defeated then public works minister M.K. Muneer in the polls, told IANS: "The major reason for this is to camouflage the defeat of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in the assembly polls.

"Malappuram district was the citadel of the IUML and in previous elections the IUML had won as many as nine of the 12 seats. But this time it could win just five seats. To camouflage its poor showing in the polls and boost the spirit of party workers, the (World Cup) celebrations have begun a bit early," claimed Ali, who is a Left Democratic Front supported independent legislator.

The fisher folk in Kootayi, a coastal hamlet in the district, too are not upset by the arrival of the sudden monsoon. Instead they see it as a blessing in disguise.

"Even though the rains mean that we can't go fishing, which is our livelihood, the sudden monsoon has come handy. Due to strict instructions not to venture into the sea, we have used the time to spruce up our local club which will be bustling with activity once the World Cup starts," said Moideen, a fisherman and staunch supporter of Brazil.

And, in keeping with the tradition, barber shops in the district have become a beehive of activity with many avid fans like C.Ashraf, who is backing France and Argentina, sporting hairstyles of their favourite football heroes.

The World Cup also is fertile ground for betting and people usually play high stakes. But this time around, it has been a bit slack.

"Betting has still not picked up because many people lost money on account of betting in the assembly elections. Do you know my supporters got a staggering Rs.40 million about ($869,000) because I won the polls. But I'm sure as the World Cup gets into the second round, betting will gather pace," said Ali.