A football warrior from T'puram is trying to change the way the game is played in Kerala

Ebin Rose, the coach of the Kovalam FC, is trying to bring about a revolutionary change in the way the game of football is managed.
A football warrior from T'puram is trying to change the way the game is played in Kerala
A football warrior from T'puram is trying to change the way the game is played in Kerala
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It’s just another evening at the Central Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. Sounds of the leather meeting willow and boots kicking the football can be heard from different corners inside the Kerala State Sports Council-owned stadium. 

At one end of the stadium, some cricketers are engrossed in their daily net sessions; as we move towards the boundaries of the ground, we find an athletics track, where people spanning all ages are on their routine walks or jogs.

At the heart of the ground, where the grass is green, a bunch of boys try to kick a football into a goal post. 

Ebin Rose, former Kerala Santosh Trophy player and coach of the Kovalam FC, walks onto the ground. A few players, as well as a couple of coaches, greet him.

“I’m sorry I’m late. These days, I participate in a television show on the FIFA World Cup,” Ebin tells TNM as he tries to find a space less crowded in the stadium gallery to sit and talk.

Ebin is trying to bring about a revolutionary change in the way the game of football is managed in the state. The academy he runs, Kovalam FC, stands a testimony to his dreams and passion.

Ebin started Kovalam FC four years ago with the aim of helping children, hailing from coastal areas like Valiyathura and Vizhinjam, who have the passion and the talent to make it big in the game but are being held back because of their poor financial background.

“The decision to start Kovalam FC is a result of all the troubles I have faced and witnessed during my days as a player,” says Ebin.

Anybody who follows Indian football, or for that matter even Kerala football, would know Ebin Rose, the former defender of the 2004 Santosh Trophy-winning team. 

He has also represented the now-defunct Viva Kerala FC in I-League, India’s professional football league.

“I’m not boasting but sometimes I feel that I could have gone a long way, had I gotten the right platform and opportunities,” says Ebin, who goes on to add that the primary aim of starting Kovalam FC was to give talented footballers in Kerala a platform to grow and improve their game.

“Growing up in Vizhinjam, a coastal area in Thiruvananthapuram, amidst riots and communal tensions, most of my time was spent reading newspapers and listening to radio news,” recalls the former Kerala player.

“One day, I saw a report in the newspaper about football coaching at the Central stadium and I really wanted to join,” says Ebin.

It was here at the Central Stadium that Ebin realised that for a boy like him, from a financially poor background, it wasn’t easy to break into the sporting system of the state or even the country.

“During my initial days in the coaching camp, I was always sidelined and was asked to do the work of collecting the ball every time it went off the ground, while the other students from a more privileged background got to play,” recalls Ebin.

“That moment, I took it up as a challenge to work hard and make my mark in the sport and that is how I got to wherever I did,” he adds.

Currently, there are more than 100 kids training with Kovalam FC.

“For a long time, we did not have a ground to practice, so we used to practice on beaches, open fields and so on, but right now, with the permission of the Kerala Sports Council, we train at the Central Stadium every weekend at a small rent,” Ebin says.

“These kids come from areas where people get addicted to alcohol and drugs at a very young age. To go with that, they suffer from adverse poverty that most of them get only one square meal per day,” says Ebin.

“Kovalam FC helps these kids to channelize all their energy and talent into the right channel and through football, they are able to forget and to a certain extent, even overcome their hardships in life,” he added.

With the help and support from its chief patron and president, TJ Mathew, Kovalam FC will soon have their own stadium.

The construction of the stadium has begun at a ground which was owned by MV Higher Secondary school at Aramanoor near Poovar, around 30 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram.

Even though Kovalam FC features in discussions about football in Kerala, the club is still struggling to find a place in the country’s football map.

Ebin feels that one of the primary reasons behind this is the divisional politics played by the football associations and academies in the state.

“Right from the coaches at different levels to the selection committee, everyone is a part of this dirty politics,” Ebin lashes out at the systems in place.

Ebin draws similarities between some of these football academies to entrance coaching centres in the state.

“Some of these academy coaches use their clout and influence to get the players from their academies to play for various professional teams and then boast about it as their personal achievement as well as an achievement of the academy,” says a visibly outraged Ebin.

“I am a rebel. I voice my dissent against such practices and because of this, many coaches and officials in other clubs hold a grudge against me, because of which talented players from my club are always ignored and sidelined during tournaments and selections,” rues Ebin.

With the kind of talent that they possess, Kovalam FC is on par with any other professional league in the country. But unlike other clubs, they lack funds.

Most of the financial support comes from TJ Mathew, who, according to Ebin, has been an immense support to the club.

“Companies do not want to sponsor us because we do not have any foreign players. We only have players from Kerala,” says Ebin.

“Our main aim is to coach and nurture players from Kerala and our president TJ Mathew has assured his support for this idea,” says the former defender of Travancore Titanium.

Talking about why players from the Ernakulam and the Malabar region are dominating the football scene in the state, Ebin says that it is because most of the players in the capital city get restricted by various organizational departments.

Organisations like SBT, Travancore Titanium, ONGC have decent football teams. These organisations normally hire talented footballers to work for their organisations to make them play for their teams.

“When these talented players, who otherwise had the potential to play professional footballers, start to get paid from these organisations, they lose that fire in the belly and they would hesitate to take the risk of moving higher in the game, thus ending their career as footballers,” adds Ebin.

“With Kovalam FC, I wish to help these kids from underprivileged backgrounds to realise their dreams and to give them the courage to play this wonderful game,” says an emotional Ebin.

It is almost 6 pm and the players at the Central stadium are done for the day. They remove their jerseys and hang them to dry on the goal post to begin their warm-down exercises.

Most of these jerseys have the names of Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Ramos and in between all those jerseys, one cannot help but notice a blue-coloured jersey with Sunil Chhetri’s name on it.

“We have players who can compete in the World Cup, but our system will have to change first,” says Ebin Rose as he walks out of the stadium.

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