Referee Alikoyakka: The Unsung Hero Of Kerala Sevens

Who might be the most booed in the history of All-India Sevens Football? Without a doubt, no name other than that of All India Sevens Football referee “Alikoyaka” could possibly come to mind. It was not like stroking squeals but knee-jerk thuds like peach knife stabs. Out of thousands around, a single man was virtually slaughtered in the middle. Holding the whistle on the field is not a small feat. There will always be fourteen warmed, stinging giants running around him. The organisers will trundle their eyes and wait for impending doom. His bearing on the field was almost paradoxical: though slouching in a seemingly lethargic fashion, his movement seemed more like a roving shuttle. It did not take place in a single day. It took decades.

The “Celebrity Referee” has dribbled into the hearts of football lovers with his brilliance on the bustling pitches of the game. Starting his football career as a player, Alikoya, a native of Kozhikode, became an exciting sight in the seven fields of Kerala as a referee. He remains one of the unique stories of Malappuram football, his anecdotes not only inspiring hopes and anxieties but lending incredulity to the listeners. “He had heard a lot of abuse and criticism from the spectators and the players. However, the Sevens organizers and football lovers of Malappuram always had a special respect and admiration for him”. A teardrop trickled down from the edge of Hameedka’s hoary eyelashes as he reminisced about his best friend.

“Lifetime ban” from the game

Alikoya was an excellent stopper back who stood as a massive wall to occlude the rushing forwards. A full-back was as strong as the core of a spear as well as an epitome of incredible joy and candour on the field. But fate had something else in store for him. While his football career was going well, few contretemps occurred fortuitously. During 1982-83, Kozhikode District B Division Championships were held at City Corporation ground. In the astonishing match, two tremendous teams aligned in the field – the Young Indians consisting of Alikoya, Abdul Hameed and Pallan Sakeer on one side and a strong lineup of Leaders Sports Club on the other. The Leaders would lift the trophy if they could get a draw in the decisive match. Young Indians took the lead early in the game, prompting the referee to be in favour of the opponents, awarding even the offside goals. Balagopalakurup, a prominent organiser and association head, controlled the game. Predictably, a skirmish ensued, wherein the provoked Alikoya and Abdul Hameed manhandled the referee. The next day, the District Football Association issued a lifetime ban for Alikoya and three others. “I was taken back that they kept Alikka out”, murmurs Hameedka as he recalls the incident. Since then, Alikoya’s presence was reduced to a handful of sevens competitions, as he could not play in recognised tournaments. But something special awaited him. For the first time in his career, on the recommendation of Abdul Hameed, Alikoya came to the Thirurangaadi football tournament with his whistle to peg down the game.

Unfading memories

 The methodological world created by Boucher Alikoya, Jadka driver Kuttan and auto driver Chandran served as the stance of the spectators in Malappuram. Their religion and nationality were essentially football. During discussions of the game, the name “Alikoya” would be heard from time to time. He ruled seven fields all over Kerala, including places like Malappuram, Angamaly, Muvattupuzha, Valapattanam and Thrissur. National and international players relish his passion. “Albeit a strict game controller, Koya was sometimes softhearted and willingly surrendered to the demands of the organisers. They used to ask him to keep the team with the highest gate collection in the tournament. That’s how he got the nickname ‘Committee Koya’ “, Hameedkka remembered with a small smile. The spectators used to compare Alikoyaka to a prominent FIFA referee Pierluigi Collina, who used to appear in International football with piercing eyes and a bald head, not unlike Alikoya. Alikoya was neither saddened nor overjoyed by the teasing and encouragement from the people. He made his name in the obstreperous sevens fields by controlling the game honestly. During his leisure time, the man from Kozhikode found a way to earn a living by driving an auto rickshaw along the city. Today, we don’t have our own Alikoyaka to control the impulsive fields. But he has left behind many good memories that not only fill us with joy and delectation but make us bearers of his legacy.