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Football through Bhasi Malapparamba

The freelancer who reported 8 World Cups from Maradona to Messi

Jushna Shahin

Walking out of Alakapuri Hotel on the drenched road after a heavy downpour, past Palayam bus-stand, to cross the junction to reach Calicut Railway Station, our minds wandered around the golden-framed spectacled man, who took out his valuable three hours, talking to us, two girls from Kannur, who came to know about the history of Kerala football. And my mind pondered around the thought about his response to every call to say that he is in an important meeting with people from Kannur, and we had looked each other, thinking what our qualifications were to conduct an important meeting with such an important person. Merely our football passion? Our endless love for the game? And there she was hopping down the slab onto the road, Thamunna, my sister, with amazement, she said, “He was never an ordinary man. And I never knew I am coming to meet a person who met Pele..!” Her eyes struck with curiosity and yet with a thinking expression, she was blabbering about our three long hours of talk. We were more than happy. But what captured my mind was the simplicity and the humility that this person possessed, deserving great reverence.

Making it to at least one FIFA World Cup tournament in lifetime, is one of the greatest dreams every football enthusiast keeps longing for in their lifetime. But, for Bhasi Malapparamba, the freelance sports journalist, the dream turned reality eight times. And that too with the FIFA accreditation. And apart from reporting every matches, he had the opportunity to meet a lot of World Footballers, including the legend, Pele. Watching Maradona to today’s Messi play and then reporting them from Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico etc. is indeed a lifetime achievement. It’s the dream of many which can’t be fulfilled even now…!

Bhasi with Pele during 1990 Italia World Cup

As I reached back home, I searched in the Youtube to get this movie in a black and white screen, and it began as its background commentary announces the Kings Trophy final, that’s about to take place between Kerala Tigers and World Challengers. The players are introduced and there comes the referee to toss the coin, and in springing youth does Bhasi Malapparamba runs in to the field, with his name announced, and there does the movie begin. “Meanwhile the movie shoot, Prem Nasir asks me, ‘Does a player remember the moments and the thoughts that flushes through his mind while kicking the ball, or heading it..? I think, you should try to know about this while talking to a player…’ And, thus he gives me this advice.”, says Bhasi Malapparamba in the preface to his book “Jogo Bonito”, titled in Portugese meaning “Beautiful game”, which is a compilation of his interviews with world footballers. All our football enthusiast grandparents in Kerala must have definitely watched this beautiful movie, “Football Champion” starred by Prem Nasir, which was released in the year 1972. When A.B Raj directed the movie, he wanted Bhasi to coach and also do dupe role with Prem Nasir. Thus, working with finest actor of malayalam industry of 70s, he then reached to reporting the matches of the finest players of the world.  And his long journey to what he has been till now, seemed more than what can be called inspiring.

Born in the Malabar region of Kerala, in Calicut, Bhasi Malapparamba, did his schooling from Zamorins college High School, in Calicut, and after his college days from Malabar Christian College, he completed his Diploma in Civil Engineering from Kerala Govt. Polytechnic College and joined as an engineer in Kerala Public Works Department. As the seeds of soccer, that British rule sowed in Kerala, sprouted its roots firmly, especially in the Malabar capital, Calicut, which was under the Madras Presidency during the British Rule in India , and this football enthusiast Malabari too, living in the peak of its growth, did not escape the game’s clenched fists. With the commencement of Nagjee Football Tournament in 1952, and when the crowds overflowed in the stadiums, the little 11-year old Bhasi too had his space there. Watching the game, its beauty and the festivity that it brought to the land, is what attracted him to the world of football. And becoming to what he is today started right from the first Tournament that he played to the previous World Cup that he reported. And the crucial year 1958 shaped him to what he is today, when he played his first Tournament for West Hill Kerala Polytechnic in District league and the same year, he published his first novel, ‘Paanapaathrathinte Kaamuki’, which narrates the story of a teacher who falls in love with a student. And these came out during his college days.

The autograph Pele wrote for Bhasi during 1982 Spain World Cup

With his life and unquenched dreams, he forged ahead, even when a degree in Engineering seemed more like a dream, only because he was not in a position to afford it. He vanquished it by completing a Diploma in Civil Engineering and seized hold of a good job from it. And, unlike many, his passion for the game never extorted his education and never made him jobless. And this made him the successful person that he is today.

After all the footballing, engineering and novel writing, what he is today is perhaps the first person from India, yet, surely the only one from Kerala, to cover and report 8 FIFA World Cups with the accreditation from FIFA, as a Freelance Sports Journalist.

Sitting in Calicut railway station, waiting for the announcement on the delayed train information, my phone rang. On the other end, it was that fatherly figure, Bhasi sir, calling us to ask us whether we reached the station, worrying if the delayed train would   miss our semi-finals that night. Because, it was July 10 evening, and we were heading back home to relax a bit and then catch up the FIFA 2018 semi-finals, Belgium- France match at 11: 30. Quite a lot of things did he too say about the Belgium team. According to him, Belgium is one of the strongest team capable of any change at any moment, emerging strong with each match that they played. But, for the question about his team, with a little smile, he said, “I supported Brazil always, but they are out of the tournament now. Not only Brazil, almost all the great teams have gone out as the quater-finals ended..And this World Cup is taking unexpected twists and turns.” And talking about 2018 World Cup to this person, he handed over to me, “FIFA World Cup Russia-2018, hand book, which is his latest publication. And this book has all the details of the teams and about their qualification. Talking from history of Kerala football, mazing through the British rule and some politics, he then spoke about the World football. Everything with the touch of experience and it seemed all were the stories that he went through. Of course, he did. He not only lived in the age of every football history, but had his own touch in everything. Everything seemed his own. He reigned the Calicut district team when Kozhikode was Malappuram-Kozhikode-Wayanad togetehr, as their Captain for many years. He was also the captain of the Young Challengers team that played Nagjee and other tournamentsin and ouy of Kerala. And he remembers every tinge of it, with all its levels and flavours.

Whilst talking about the 2018 World Cup, his memories flipped back to the days when he visited Brazil to report the 2014 World Cup. He said, for Brazilians, football is their everyday chore. And with a half-smile and sparkling eyes he explains about how football to them is like drinking tea or brushing teeth is to us. That they never forgets to do it, neither they never remembers to do it, and that it is a part of their life. There were implicit tears of joy that could slip down his eyes, talking about accomplishing to view closely the life of one of his favourite football world. It is still a dream that more of India, and half of Kerala  dream about. And this person accomplished this formidable task numerous number of times in a lifetime.

In 1977, Calcutta welcomed Pele, an year or two before his retirement, to play match against Mohun Bagan AC, when Bhasi jumped out of the crowd to pose a question to the legend. And overwhelmed with the memories, he does tell us, “I think it was in 1990 Italy World Cup that we clicked a picture together…. But the autograph was in 1982 Madrid…” Bewildered with overflowing joy or pride, talking to a person who mastered the World football in a lifetime, dumb-stuck, I sat with all my ears to the experience that he shared.

And it was the sandalwood coated ballpen that he bought from the Calicut Handicaraft Emporium, that he used in the 1982 Spain World Cup, smelling which Pele said, “Its the smell of football.. !” The story that he narrates in his book ‘Jogo Bonito’, which even says how he got the autograph from Pele on his scribbling pad “do amigo, Pele”, translated as, “from your friend Pele.”  Apart from the legend Pele, he could meet and talk with the England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, past whom did Maradona leapt up and somehow trickled the ball to net, which later became famous as the “hand of God” goal. It is interesting to note that, he even reported Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup. Zidane’s headbutt in 2006 and every classical history that we read and watch in screens. Above watching them all, he reported them all ! And other famous players like Romerio of Brazil, Bobby Moore of Britain, Bobby Chalton from England, and others, about each, that he confined within the book about his interviews with world footballers. Achievements are many. And this man in his  70s accomplished a lot in his lifetime.

Bhasi poses near the statue of Pele during 2014 World Cup in Brazil

The year 1978 disappointed Bhasi Malapparamba as his efforts to cover the Argentina World Cup succumbed to misfortunes, when he approached late to All India Football Federation for the media passes. But, for the 1982 FIFA World Cup, everything was set and through the malayalam daily, Malayala Manorama, he got the media accreditation for the same World Cup. Accompanied by former players from Calcutta, including the former Indian football captain Sailan Manna, Bhasi Malapparamba reported his first ever World Cup. And the first match that he ever reported was in Madrid, in 1982, England V/s West Germany.

It was the year 1994 USA World Cup, that he missed due to a knee operation.

“Even when the accreditation came for 94′ World Cup, but the operation on my knee, stopped me from any travelling and thus did I miss the 94′ World Cup.” And with a pause he continues, “Even I got the accreditation for this year, but as my wife is sick, even when my children asked me to go, I could not set my eyes on it..”

Thus, he reported two less than ten World Cups, that is, eight FIFA World Cups and in 2008, the Euro Cup Championship.

Travelling to different foriegn countries, watching the differences and similarities, tasting the culture and culinary, matches on-field and off-field, playing and penning, this person has indeed a great knowledge and a rigid view on every folds of the game. Talking to him further, he took our attention  on the high standard football infrastructures that the European countries possess, the football field that decorated two sides of highways, the importance each country gives to it, etc.

Bhasi with Bobby Moore, the British Legend

Flaunting his enticing wide smile, he talks to the hotel staffs like a family, to which, we wrestled with the question mark on our face for its reason. And finding this out, he said, Alakapuri to him seems like an ancestral home. And we listened to another enlightening story.

80s in Kerala, weren’t the time of smartphones or internet. Nor televisions. Only a very few families or big hotels, could afford a television of their own. Even then, there were no channels that could stream them the World Cup live. So, most of people lended their ears onto the radio, for the live updates and other news on World Cup Football. Bhasi Malapparamba, after while back from 1982 World Cup, brought home, the recorded tape of the tournament. He then bought a wooden television that came as courier, and with a screen player, he screened all matches to the public. People from Kozhikode and Malappuram, crowded inside the Alakapuri hotel. And he says, Alakapuri stayed close to his heart, always. This antique tape of 1982 tournament, still remains with him.

Bhasi with FT Correspondent Jushna Shahin

Unleashing his old experiences and stories, we found out the difficulties that he faced in reporting the early world cups. Nothing less than patience and perseverance would make a person successful in these tasks. Travelling to a completely different nations, watching the game and connecting the line through trunk call and then reading the report for the person on the other side to write it or sometimes faxing the news, the task was even more harder. A day when the newest generation cannot imagine without internet and phone calls, this man, reported news from far nations, devoid of all these gadgets and newest technologies. Nothing less than endless passion and continuous effort made this person, what he is today.

And, at the end of the day,what remained in me, is that elderly figure with much elegance, packed in poise who welcomed us in the hotel reception, with a folder on one hand, marching into the tea-hall, to spend hours talking about football. The first sight of Bhasi Malapparamba, on entering the hotel, never let us guess about, the bundles of stories and experiences of football that dwell within him.

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