ADVERTISEMENT

Gowthamapuram: A Non-Stop Football Factory in Bengaluru

Gowthamapuram has produced football stalwarts like Sattar Basheer, Ethiraj, Koushalram, Ulaganathan.

Updated
Football
4 min read
Young boys come out to play football in Bengaluru’s Gowthamapuram that can easily pass off as a neighbourhood in Sao Paulo.
i

Narrow lanes with kids playing football, youngsters sporting Brazilian football jerseys, a Pele statue in the main square area - Gowthamapuram in Bengaluru, the IT capital of India can easily pass off as a neighbourhood in Sao Paulo, until one turns up the volume and hears people speaking in Tamil. In cricket-crazy India, Gowthamapuram is unique.

Gowthamapuram is a Tamil neighbourhood in Bengaluru. According to the 2001 population census in India, 18.4% of the population in Bengaluru speak Tamil, making the Tamil speaking populace the second largest linguistic group after speakers of Kannada, the official state language.

Located very close to the Madras Engineer Group of the Indian army, Gowthamapuram has produced footballers by the hundreds.
Located very close to the Madras Engineer Group of the Indian army, Gowthamapuram has produced footballers by the hundreds.
(Photo: Saisudha Sugavanam) 
ADVERTISEMENT

Located in Bengaluru’s Halasuru, Gowthampuram was referred to as Gun Troops during the colonial era. Arun Prasad, a historian, who specialises in the history of Bengaluru says when the British forces occupied Bengaluru in early 1800s, the ancestors of today’s residents of Gowthamapuram were one of the early migrants from Tamil Nadu to occupy Bengaluru along with the British officers. They were servants to the British officers, and worked as casual labourers – engaged in cooking, cobblery, carpentry, washing and so on.

Located very close to the Madras Engineer Group of the Indian army, Gowthamapuram has produced footballers by the hundreds, including several stars like Sattar Basheer, Ethiraj, Koushalram, Ulaganathan who represented India during the 1950s to 1970s, the golden era of Indian football. A non-stop football factory, Gowthamapuram’s players continue to play for India, as well as various prestigious clubs within India like Bengaluru FC, Chennai City FC, Mohun Bagan, and various state teams.

Origins of Football in Gowthamapuram

The Gowthamapuram stadium is a little more than half the size of a regular football field, with a couple of goal posts on one side and a concrete stand at the other.
The Gowthamapuram stadium is a little more than half the size of a regular football field, with a couple of goal posts on one side and a concrete stand at the other.
(Photo: Saisudha Sugavanam) 

In the 1800s the British Army brought servants from Tamil Nadu to do their chores. They all settled in and around the cantonment region of Bengaluru. C. Ravi Kumar, 57, a resident of Gowthamapuram and former international footballer who represented India 6 times in 1970s and 1980s says the British Army men would play football in the army grounds located close to Gowthamapuram.

“They would not always have sufficient number of Britishers to form the team. It was common for them to get their Indian servants to play with them. In 1947, when the British left India, they handed over their footballs, goal posts and other equipment to the residents of Gowthamapuram. We picked it up from there,” said Ravi Kumar.

The Gowthamapuramers then honed their skills watching Brazilian international football, and that has shaped much of their football culture & playing style since then. Gowthamapuram draws its identity from its football.

Incidentally, Ravi Kumar’s father himself was a cook with the British Army.

ADVERTISEMENT

Football’s Role in Improving the Social-Economic Status of Gowthamapuram

On any given evening, over 75 kids practice in the Gowthamapuram stadium.
On any given evening, over 75 kids practice in the Gowthamapuram stadium.
(Photo: Saisudha Sugavanam) 

To Ravi Kumar’s generation, football was a means to escape poverty and hunger. Becoming proficient at football meant a potential job in the public sector companies.

Ravi says “Public sector companies such as Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Coal India Limited (CIL), LRDE, Bharath Electronics Limited (BEL) and Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) picked up skilful players from Gowthamapuram to play for their teams.This gave hundreds from Gowthamapuram employment opportunities.”

A job in a public sector company – then as well as in present day India - is valued for the stability it provides. In an era when jobs in general were hard to come by, a public sector job was all the more valued.

This employment played a significant role in transforming a poor neighbourhood to what it is today - a vibrant middle class locality. The current generation continues to worship the sport, but more as an end rather than as means.

Today and the Future

The current generation of Gowthamapuram’s footballers relate to the sport in a very different way than the previous generation did.
The current generation of Gowthamapuram’s footballers relate to the sport in a very different way than the previous generation did.
(Photo: Saisudha Sugavanam) 

The Gowthamapuram stadium is a little more than half the size of a regular football field, with a couple of goal posts on one side and a concrete stand at the other. On any given evening, over 75 kids practice their craft here. It might not be world class, and perhaps the talented feet that race through the turf deserve better, but the passion for the sport overcomes practical deficiencies. The current generation of Gowthamapuram’s footballers relate to the sport in a very different way than the previous generation did.

ADVERTISEMENT
Babu, a former junior national player, is the coaches the kids in Gowthamapuram.
Babu, a former junior national player, is the coaches the kids in Gowthamapuram.
(Photo: Saisudha Sugavanam) 

Babu, a former junior national player dons multiple hats – an employee of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as well as a football coach to Gowthamapuram’s promising talent - elaborates, “We played football to ensure that we got jobs through job slots reserved for sportsmen. Today’s kids play football to pursue a career in football. With so many clubs coming up and with the kind of training they offer, the sky is the limit for these players”.

Today’s youngsters benefit as much from a proud footballing heritage as from a degree of economic stability that allows them to freely pursue their passion. That bodes well for India, a country described by FIFA’s former president Sepp Blatter as football’s sleeping giant.

(The author has been a keen observer of the rise of Indian Sports for the last ten years – initially as a sports journalist for the BBC and later as the Programme Director of GoSports Foundation, a sports non-profit. She's currently running a company that focuses on imparting 21st Century leadership skills for children.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

ADVERTISEMENT
Published: 
ADVERTISEMENT
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!
ADVERTISEMENT