Attendance-wise, they have struggled fill-up the EMS Stadium which does not have bucket seating. However, they have managed to knit together a good community of football lovers which is growing every year.
Gokulam's women's team lifted the Indian Women's League trophy this year and their reserve team has won the Independence Day Cup and Bodousa Cup. The management has been very keen on taking part in tournaments and the club's representation has been commendable.
Despite their success in cup competitions, I-League title remains a distant dream for the Kozhikode-based club. They have not been able to mark that objective complete in their third try as well, after finishing in the bottom half of the table in their first two tries. Mohun Bagan won the 2019-20 season with four games to spare and a big lead over the rest of the teams. But that has now become part of the club's long-term vision.
"Every club playing in I-League can't win the title. It is a closely-fought competition. There are teams with a bigger budget and more experience. With every passing year, we are getting a more settled team. For the first two years, we didn't have players at all, now we have a settled outfit. Though we are sixth, there is only a point's difference between us and the second spot. We should have won against East Bengal, a goal was denied to us," club president VC Praveen, told Goal.
Gokulam Kerala's upcoming plans include setting up of academies in every district in Kerala. Kerala's representation in the national team, which was once something to boast about, is nearly non-existent now. Malabarians are ready to shoulder some of the responsibility and plan to find the hidden gems in the state.
Praveen explained, "We have managed to establish ourselves as one of the premier clubs in India. (KPL, Durand wins) is a recognition for us. Now, we are trying to spread across Kerala. We want academies in every district of Kerala. After one year, we need to have the best talents.
"By August (2020), we want to establish this. By April-May, we wanted to have summer cams. Now with the Coronavirus scare, don't know how far those camps can be a success."
The club management's be-all and end-all also hinted that the Malabarians are exploring the opportunity to play a few matches at the Manjeri Stadium in Malappuram next season. A shift of base was earlier in the club's plans but they have since grown accustomed to calling the EMS Stadium in Kozhikode 'home'.
"For now, it (home base) will be EMS Stadium, we have been here for three years. Manjeri Stadium is now fully floodlit. We are thinking about playing 2-3 matches in Malappuram, if possible.
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic remains a huge concern for football clubs all over the world. India has seen more than 100 registered cases and following a government directive, all football competitions in the country, including the I-League, remain suspended till March 31.
This also has a financial implication on clubs. Praveen said, "As of now, nobody has been affected. But the stoppage of the league has affected our plans. Hopefully, by April, the season comes to an end. If it is dragged onto May, then it will be a big financial implication on us. Already, the cancellation of tickets for away matches, don't know how much damage it will be for us."
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had initially decided to organize I-League matches behind closed doors. However, the government directive left them with no choice but to suspend the matches from March 15, which was a matchday at the EMS Stadium.
"We actually think the last game could have happened. Indian Arrows had reached Calicut, one day difference wouldn't have made a difference. Either it could have been suspended with immediate effect or Monday. It would have helped AIFF also, everyone would have finished 16 matches," Praveen opined.
As Gokulam Kerala continued to make strides in the right direction, there has also been a slight drop in the number of regular first-team starters who are Keralites. This season, Ubaid CK and Mohammad Irshad are the regulars (more than 10 starts). Jestin George has started nine games whereas Shibil Mohammed, Rahul KP and Salman Kalliyath have all made cameos.
Praveen made an important point regarding the same. "The thing is, we can bring them into the team. To get to play, they have to work. They (upcoming talents) all want to be in ISL but all teams can play only a certain number of players. Some are too young to play in ISL. They don't realize that and sign up for ISL teams and then sit in the gallery.
"After two years, they come back to I-League or end up playing in the second division. Not many 19-20 year-olds are playing in the ISL. They have to explore their chances before moving to ISL."
Gokulam Kerala have only started to dream. They want to win the I-League, play in Asia and develop talented players from their youth academy.
Hero Indian Women’s League-winning coach Priya PV of Gokulam Kerala FC has joined hands with other athletes and social workers to contribute to a helpline centre that aims at getting essential medical and food supplies to the people during the COVID-19 lockdown, in Kannur, Kerala.
Along with Priya PV, Jamshedpur FC attacker CK Vineeth has also joined the same helpline centre. The biggest challenge for those helping out at the helpline centre is to make sure that all requests for medicines are met.
“We have been getting around 150-200 calls every day. Most of these are for medicines. We make sure that whenever we get any requests for medicines, they are duly sent to those in need. No requests for medicines are ever turned down,” Priya PV who had earlier coached India U-19 stated.
“We try to do the same for grocery and food items as well. But sometimes we have to keep in mind that we have to distribute such items amongst a lot of people. So we try to divide it for everyone to get some amount,” she continued.
Besides, the call centre is also being attended by a horde of students and other professionals from around the area.
Kannur being the headquarters of the helpline centre, the likes of Priya and Vineeth also get a number of calls from the nearby districts, where tertiary networks have been set up to help the people.
“We are working from the headquarters in Kannur. There are tertiary helpline centres in different districts as well who have their own network of pharmacists, grocers, and delivery executives,” quipped Priya. “If we get a call from any of these districts, we forward the call to the respective helpline centre.”
Priya, who won the Hero IWL 2019-20 title as the head coach of local club Gokulam Kerala FC, however, is having to stay away from her loved ones, in order to keep contributing at the helpline centre.
“My ancestral home is a bit far from the call centre, so I am currently staying at a place that is close by. Initially, I wanted to go to my ancestral home every weekend, in order to make sure that my parents have all they need during the lockdown,” she said.
“The footballing calendar in India is quite packed, and those of us making a living out of the beautiful game do not get much chance to give back to society. The lockdown has awarded me the time that I can now use to help other people.”
In a first-of-kind initiative in Indian football, Gokulam Kerala FC have started online webinar football training for children during lockdown. This is the first time an I-League club is giving online training sessions to children during lockdown.
The programme that started on April 15 in association with Impulse, a sports start-up from Thiruvananthapuram, has already received good response from football-loving children across the state.
Other than GKFC coaches, Gokulam have roped in the services of Michael Matricciani (Head coach of Adelaide City FC), James Mcaloon (AFC A-License Coach, England), Dr George Lopez (Trainer, Real Madrid Foundations, Spain), Simone Quinteri (Uefa B License, Italy) for the course.
“Usually this is vacation time for children. But they have minimal sports related activities due to the lockdown. So we thought about giving online training classes for children,” said Bino George, the technical director of GKFC.
“It is a huge challenge for us. Football has to be learnt on field but the current circumstances do not allow it. We have formulated our football course considering the challenges of enabling sports training through live streaming. The foreign coaches are also very educated and have given several tips to improve the course,” he said.
GKFC and foreign coaches take one hour class for the children for six days a week. There is special stress for nutrition and fitness in the course. “We have made the course material to help the children develop into professional players. So we have included all aspects of the sport, such as nutrition, fitness, rehab, and other important aspects,” he added.
The course was inaugurated by U Sharafali, former Indian International. GKFC head coach Fernando Santiago Varela and fitness trainer Djair Garcia have also interacted with the students on various topics.