If you travel across the length and breadth of Goa it becomes obvious that a lot of our play grounds are either in front of holy institutions or around their border. If one is travelling during the day, these grounds are used for a varied of activities and come evening, one normally will see children playing football.
Football was always played and it has been only in the past few years that one sees cricket being played.
Actually, this is not about what is being played or what should be played. During my recent journey from North to South I was struck by the fact that in the old times, holy institutions provided the platform for sports to many of us.
Most sports were normally held – forty years or more back – either in school grounds or in grounds in front of churches in Goa. It was not just a question of playing football. In those days, each church was normally equipped with one or two table tennis tables; carrom boards and different board games. There were nets in some places to play volleyball or badminton. Recreation began and ended here.
I happen to travel from my village Maina to Panaji often and one sight that meets my eyes is the sight of the football ground in front of my church till the football ground in Santa Cruz.
The football ground in Maina has one part of the corner projecting onto the road. As I move ahead , I reach Nuvem and here the ground during the day plays host to chillies laid to dry in the sun ; other spices and is at times a parking slot for cars from the houses on the side of the ground.
Little further is the ground in Verna and a little ahead one reaches Nagoa and over here the concept of a ground is different. As one moves ahead, one notices that the paddy fields in Goa Velha – which is the Goa velha football ground after harvest- is getting ready for the rains and what was a few days back a ground is slowly being tilled for a rainy day.
The situation is not better in Siridao. Here, a patch of land is converted into a football field and the mind travels faster as the Santa Crux ground comes into sight.
Obviously, the ground conditions differ from village to village and yet there is one constant- each of these villages has produced at least one or more top class football players. From Curtorim to Santa Cruz there have been a lot of players who have worn the Indian jersey and there are many from these villages that play for some of the best clubs in India.
Let me just rattle a few: Rowllin Borges, Adil Khan, Fulganco Cardozo , Lenny Rodrigues, Luis Barreto, Albino Gomes , Joaquim Abranches…… The list can go on.
These players and the others whose name I have skipped- not deliberately- are not just ordinary players. They are players who have come from nothing to stardom just pushed by a passion to excel.
As I travelled back in the evening, the grounds were full of boys chasing a ball. Wherever one stopped, one heard them speak in their mother tongue and whatever they said; they said it to get the ball in better line.
As I reached my evening destination I began to wonder the role the church has played and is playing in producing football players of class.
I remember Bruno Coutinho once telling me that he started his romance with the ball in Monte de Guirim and there were many who continued where Bruno had stopped.
As a kid, most of my colleagues and myself – whichever religion we professed- all grew up playing in church compounds. There were certain villages that had clubs or institutes that provided recreation facilities to us.
Today , at the end of my journey I have realised that there are no more table tennis tables in churches and if there are in a few, there are no takers for them. The swing has been dramatic and that can be best explained by what Churchill had told me the other day. He said: “Today the players cannot reach for practise because they are out all night for rave parties.”
Churchill talking rave took a while to settle in. As the sun began to set, I realised the sunset of yesteryears was different. Then, there were just colours and silence. Today it is about saying those were the days.
Football is going through a turn around and it will take time for it to complete a full circle. When it does we shall still stay, those were the days!