79 and still playing: A football player's passion for the game increases with each passing decade

August 6, 2019

"Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do." - Pele

Growing up in a small village in Kerala, I had limited access to explore my passion for football. At the time, football was gaining popularity in the state and every little boy was aspiring to be like Pele and Garrincha who were popular players of the Brazil team. I was the captain of my school football team and we regularly participated in inter-school tournaments. However, football was not largely encouraged as it was considered a hindrance to academics and we were asked to practise football outside the school premises. I was all of 10 when I had taken it upon myself to look for grounds or dry fields where we could practice after school. My name is Narayanan Kutty and my love for football led me to establish a football academy for the youth in my hometown.

After completing high school, I had moved to a bigger city for college, also giving me the opportunity to enhance my football skills and thereby compete at a state level. The Kannur District League was one of the strongest football teams in India and I mostly played in the forward line, leading my team to numerous championships.

At the age of 22, I left India to pursue my post-graduation in London. With the expertise I had gained as a state level player in India, I was instantly chosen to be part of the university football team where I got several opportunities to compete internationally. I consider myself immensely fortunate to have witnessed the World Cup matches that were held at the Wembley Stadium and watch my favourite player, Pele play up close.

I returned to India in 1977, to work at the newly established Keltron Corporation in Kerala. In the midst of managing work challenges that arises in a new establishment, I incessantly missed playing football and felt a deep void in my life. Eventually, I decided to form a company football team and initially led the team as captain and later took to up the role of team manager. Under my leadership, the Keltron football team were champions for 16 consecutive years in the Kannur District League and had defeated several football teams.

A few years ago, my health deteriorated, and I was unable to play football like I used to. This caused a lot of distress and added to my ailing health. But as luck would have it, I was approached by a football enthusiast who was looking to start a football academy in Kannur and asked me to spearhead the academy, K. K. Sports which is a division of Al Ethihad Sports Academy in Abu Dhabi.

It took a lot of work to find youngsters between the ages of 5 to 16 to join the academy as many parents were skeptical about their kids pursuing extracurricular activities. The journey wasn't easy but after immense hard work, I finally had the first batch of sixteen students who started training under a qualified senior coach.

The Dubai Super Cup League Championship was being held in April 2017, and I wanted my team to participate in the tournament. It wasn't an easy task, as most of the trainees didn't even possess a valid passport to travel. Many sponsors had backed out as they were not willing to take a chance with a new team. I couldn't disappoint my boys and decided to use my personal finances to sponsor their shoes, socks and uniforms. Against all odds, I finally managed to take my team to Dubai and my efforts paid off when the team bagged the trophy by defeating teams from the UAE, KSA, China and Kenya.

This win was just the beginning as we continued to grow by participating in many regional and national tournaments. Now at the age of 79, I'm single-handedly managing 140 trainees and six qualified senior coaches along with the marketing and administration of the academy. I won't be stopping here as I believe football is not a sport, it's a belief and my aim is to inculcate this belief in as many youngsters as possible.

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