Though British brought several games to the hills, they did not play much football in the Nilgiris. Yet, football became the most popular game after independence. All communities took to football, including the Badagas, like fish to water.
Teams like Ooty Blues, Gowders’ Eleven and Sporting Union became local legends.
Madras Regimental Centre at Wellington produced not one but two Olympians, both named Thangaraj.
In the sixties teams like Youngsters, Gladiators, Nilgiri Challengers become household names. The officials teams of Cordite Factory and Nilgiri Police were a class apart.
Football matches were festivals. As the tournament progressed top players were imported from Kerala, Karnataka and as far as Goa. The days of finals were generally bandh days for Ooty.
Footballers, though poor, were heroes. The management of tournaments was fully with retired, senior players. Politicians used to request for a chance to be announcers.
Death of popular football
All this ended when Association Football was introduced in 1970. I was very much against it when the decision was taken suddenly and as a matter of official routine. I argued that Nilgiri people basically loved to play football and official tournaments were secondary to them.
For Association Football to succeed one must have well funded and supported teams first. So I suggested that the decision could be postponed for some time till the clubs could become stronger and more organized. Mr. Thomas, an extraordinary District Couch, agreed with me but could not do anything about it.
But sports in India has always been secondary. Official control, power and misuse of funds are priorities.
Football, the game that hundreds of Nilgiri youth like me loved to play and thousands loved to watch died on that summer day in 1970 when Association Football was introduced in the Nilgiris.
I was one of those who played an exhibition game on that day when Mr. Nelson Isaacs, the President of TN Football Association was the Chief Guest. ‘Wimco’ Thangaraj made a brief appearance. Badaga legend Iswaran also played. The rest you can see in the picture.
Later, it was proposed to build a stadium at the Breeks ( now HADP) grounds surrounded by a shopping complex. The ground and other sports facilities were given least importance. I led a big protest against it and finally our suggestion to have only a pavilion and a pucca football field was accepted.
The story of the decline and fall of sports is the same everywhere in India. Let us hope Modi’s Magic can transform Indian sports also.
Flex boards in Kotagiri announce that there will be a ‘Ordinary Congress of the TN Football Association’ ( I wonder what it means !) tomorrow.
Good wishes to the Congress