From repainted houses to rebranded menus, footballing fans go to great lengths to cheer on their favorite teams at the quadrennial show
Qualification is still a pipe dream but Indians know how to get excited about the soccer World Cup. And with the 2022 edition in Qatar being as close to home as possible, football fever is running high with the country once again divided in the contending colors of legendary teams, from Brazil to Argentina and Portugal to England.

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Just last week, there was a row which resulted in two people arguing at a small tea stall in Kerala’s Malappuram. Those who tried to break up the fight discovered that the two were brothers, but it wasn’t a family dispute that got them charged. “He could be my brother, but until December 18 I have no relationship with him,” said one of them. It was then that he realized that the brothers were divided on football loyalties, the eldest being an Argentina fan while the younger brother supported Brazil.
Such disputes and quarrels are a common sight in Kerala whenever a football world cup is around the corner. Once every four years, the flags and clippings of political parties give way to banners and posters of world football heroes. Hotel and juice bar menu boards are also being updated with items renamed for soccer stars and teams. Hence, mango juice could be named after both Neymar or Alves or any other famous Brazilian soccer player, obviously due to his yellow hue. Argentina, England and Germany also have juices, burgers and sandwiches named after their famous soccer players.

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The craze doesn’t stop there. Some fans even redecorate their houses before the Cup, the most popular shades being yellow and green for Brazil and blue and white for Argentina fans.
This year, the indisputable fans have even managed to put Kerala on the football map, grabbing the attention of world governing body Fifa and the football federations of Brazil and Argentina with giant clippings of Argentinian great Lionel Messi and Brazilian star Neymar Jr. which were installed in a small hamlet near the Pullavoor River in Kozhikode. It all boils down to fans’ desire to outdo fans of rival teams: following Messi’s 9m cutout followed by Neymar’s 35ft cutout, fans of Cristiano Ronaldo installed a 50ft cutout of the Portugal legend.

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The rivalry is also played out indirectly in football, thanks to the “mini World Cup tournaments” that are organized in conjunction with the actual event. At least 10 to 15 tournaments will be held in Malappuram alone, with all 32 teams participating in the real World Cup. For major teams like Brazil, Argentina, France, England, etc., the respective fan clubs form a team made up of local players. For teams without fan clubs, organizers manage to find a sponsor to support a team.
“Sponsors are mostly small shopkeepers. But they are more than happy to back a team, which could cost them a month’s worth of earnings, just because football is everything to them,” says Jaffer Khan, football historian and author of the book ‘Panthu Paranja Malappuram Kisa’ which tells the story of football in Kerala.

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But despite the usual fanfare, it feels different this time around. For Keralites, it is as if this World Cup is being played out in their own backyard.
This is because Qatar has a large Keralite expatriate population and many fans of the state are traveling to the Gulf country for the event. More than 2,500 Kerala youths have signed three-month contracts to work as volunteers for the World Cup, sources said, adding they are being paid up to Rs1. 5 lakh for the period excluding free room and board.
Many of these young people have jobs in Kerala but have taken leave or quit to participate in the football carnival. Among them is Sulfeekar Ali, an assistant professor of physical education at an Elayoor college in Malappuram. He took unpaid leave to work as a security officer for the World Cup. “I was selected due to my previous stints with various football tournaments in India. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to miss it,” he said.

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Similar is the sentiment on the west coast of Goa, which is sending a sizable contingent of fans to Qatar. As football fan Conrad Barreto puts it, “it’s just a short flight from here, shorter than it would take to travel within the country.”
Among the unprecedented number of supporters are footballers, administrators, clergymen and even MLAs.
“I keep talking to people and it seems almost everyone is coming to Qatar for the World Cup,” says Doha resident John de Sa, who has been active with the Goan Social Workers Qatar group, trying to help as many fans as possible to find accommodation.

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“Why would anyone miss out on being at the World Cup when it’s so close?” asks former India coach Armando Colaco, who will attend his first World Cup. “There is nothing like it.”
Goan bars, restaurants and halls are all gearing up to watch the matches. Like Kerala, the holiday hub is also divided over football loyalty. There are huge numbers of Brazil and Argentina fans, while some also support England, but the emotional favorite for many seems to be Portugal.
Goa was a Portuguese colony for 450 years until it was united with India in 1961. “When it comes to soccer, Goans are drawn to Portugal during the major soccer leagues,” says Jonathan de Sousa, vice president of the Goa Football Association. “The Portuguese have played an important role in popularizing football in Goa. The association football and football league were both started during the Portuguese rule in Goa.

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