Gowthamapuram: A Non-Stop Football Factory in Bengaluru
Gowthamapuram has produced football stalwarts like Sattar Basheer, Ethiraj, Koushalram, Ulaganathan.
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 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
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.
Football’s Role in Improving the Social-Economic Status of Gowthamapuram
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 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.
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.)
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