6 November 2016| 9:00 AM: It was for the first time that the Red Star Kerala FC, a football team of some JNU students from Kerala was participating at a Football tournament on such a large scale as the Malayala Manorama Capital Carnival 2016. What was also distinctive about the team was that they had covered their own respective names at the back of their jerseys with a band displaying Najeeb’s name. Not very far from the venue a faction of students had taken to the streets to protest against the inadequate and casual manner in which the university administration, the police and the concerned authorities have dealt with Najeeb Ahmad’s disappearance from JNU. One could also spot a band on the arms of the players as well as the students that said ‘find Najeeb.’
One of the eight teams participating, in the day-long gala event, JNU FC was placed in Group A with JBFC Badarpur in the knockout stage. The four winners of the knock out stage were to advance to the Semi-Finals, the victors of the Semi-Finals then would proceed to the Finals. The JNU squad had a comfortable win, winning the first match 2-0 in the Group stage against JBFC Badarpur. It however lost 0-2, to the team from the Defence sector ‘Force One’ in the Semi-Finals.
The team had Faasil and Murfad (goalkeepers), Ali Ahsan (main back), Shan Vijay (left back), Jalees (right back), Noushad AP (centre midfield), Philip (midfield), Haneefa (Captain, midfield), Noushad (forward) Jabir (forward) with Salih, Abdullah, Rafi and Rasiq in the substitutes.
The event was being organized by the popular Malayalam daily Malayala Manorama, at the sports ground of the Delhi Kannada School, near Khan Market. On a dreary grey morning, under the thick Delhi smog, and with a nip in the air, the first match of the tournament kick-started at 9:00 with the Chief Guest for the event gently striking the ball.
Both the teams: JNU FC and JBFC Badarpur were relatively unfamiliar with each other, and none of them were in a mood to concede the other any advantage. The first half ended goalless, the JNU team got many opportunities which could not result in any goals. The team made some substitutions for the second half and kept good possession of the ball. Babu and Rasiq unveiled continuous attacks as Badarpur’s defence started showing signs of nervousness.
The goal post being low and the ground somewhat lacking in space for a 9-ers match, the players took some time adjusting to the restrained conditions. Initially it appeared the players were having difficulties in placing their shots with most of them missing the goal post by narrow margins.
Speaking after the match, Ali would explain, “The ground could not fit 9 players from both the teams, the corners are very small, the ball moves very quickly, a positive thing is that you can make people go ahead and come back swiftly, however there’s not much opportunity for playing, no creativity, people are constantly shouting ‘Clear! Clear!’… Like it happened in the first match- make short passes, dribble a bit [and strike]…from behind the margins make one or two touches and cross or use a cross that comes from behind…these are the only ways that you can score.”
The tenacious efforts finally paid off in the second half when Babu’s thumping shot hit the nets and JNU team took a lead of 1-0. The Badarpur team had hardly recovered from the shock of having conceived a goal, when in a few minutes Shan’s amazing header from a well connected corner shot from Noushad dashed all hopes of the Badarpur team.
The JNU FC supporters were in frenzy.
Even though JNU FC completely dominated in the match, with most of the game being played in the opponent’s half; it was an encouraging start and a good boost for the challenge that lay ahead. And especially when you are playing for a pertinent cause; not for a moment did the JNU squad, both players and the supporters let those present for the tournament forget that JNU will rally for a just cause through all and every means, in whatsoever platform available.
The second match started a little after 1, after the other three knockout stage matches got over. Two teams that looked particularly menacing were the Defence team ‘Force One’ in green jerseys and the Police team called ‘NPL Model Town’ in white. A berth in the Finals was not very far from where the JNU team stood, and the stakes were high too; another win would not only enable them to advance and gather more support for Najeeb’s cause. But it would have also meant that the tremendous effort put in by the group in the last one year is finally coming to fruition.
Since, an exit from a football tournament last year at the hands of the AIIMS team, the team has been rigorously practicing every morning in the stadium. “It is much more than a sport, it is a creative thing, it is a means of socializing, it is more like a getting together; I guess it’s like that when you come from a long distance…” said Salih (CES, SL). The passion for the game of course knows no bounds. The football tournament organized recently in October as a part of the Onam 2016 celebrations concluded with great flourish is evidential.
The second match with Force One began on a promising note with an attack from the JNU team but all of a sudden things changed. Force One manoeuvred the ball well and maintained good possession of the ball, it was also able to convert them into successful opportunities however they couldn’t get past through Faasil, who made some brilliant dives defending JNU’s bastions.The first goal was scored immediately after the half time. From a corner kick, Kevin scored for Force One. The second goal came in quick succession when Basil hit the ball from the centre, JNU’s defenders took more than a minute to react, the consequence of which: JNU had conceded two goal. The team, a little disheartened made attempts to recover in the end. Noushad’s attempts were fouled by Force One’s goalkeeper many a times. A corner at the near end of the match had Ali missing the goal post by some distance.
The whistle went off, the match ended.
Applause, cheer and piping hot Biryani awaited the team at the stands.
The contingent caught in frame
Picture courtesy: Noushad Mk
The Informer correspondent