Barefoot 2013: Beach soccer finally coming to the fore in India?
When one thinks of the warm, sandy beaches of Goa, various images of tourists sunbathing, couples and families frolicking in the cool waters, or a few friends just sitting at the beach-side cafes, having a sip of their cold beer may come to mind. But this year, Goa will be remembered for a very different reason. For this was the year that Barefoot 2013, a Beach Soccer (yes, soccer, not football) tournament, was held in Calangute, one of the most popular beaches in Goa.
We at SportsKeeda were in close association with TransStadia, the organisers of this Beach Soccer fest. Being part of a two-man crew, I was lucky enough to have witnessed a sport that I never thought I would even watch on television, let alone live. But on 10th of February, 2013, there I was, in the press stands, on the final day of the event, watching the semi-finals and finals of the tournament.
The four semi-finalists were Goa United, ABC Arambol, Calangute Association and Kasargod Kerala. The evening got off to an interesting start as ABC Arambol and Goa United took the field for the first semi-final. A tough encounter saw Goa United emerge 5-2 winners. The next game was between home team Calangute Association and Kasargod Kerala, who had spent money out of their own pockets to be a part of this tournament, and were the only non-Goan team to be in the semi-finals. This game turned out to be far more exciting than the previous one, and saw Kasargod edge out Calangute 6-4.
The finals too were quite a heated affair, with the teams going all-out; but eventually, Kasargod Kerala emerged champions after a fantastic, and quite emphatic, 8-4 victory over Goa United. (You can read the entire match report here.)
As a first-time viewer of Beach Soccer, I have to say that it was definitely an extremely enjoyable experience. With 5 players on each side and three periods of 12 minutes each, it definitely is more fast-paced and physical than regular 11-a-side football. Individual skill comes more into play in this format, and the goalkeeper’s role is far more important in beach soccer than football, as he is the main source for ball distribution to the forward line. It was a real treat to watch players attempting diving headers, flying volleys, bicycle kicks, and many other manoeuvres that would be considered extremely difficult to attempt in regular football. However, acrobatic skills and deft ball control is the name of the game in Beach Soccer. Also, it poses the unique challenge of playing on a constantly changing surface which can prove to be a real game-changer. More than once, I saw keepers being stranded as they dived to save a low shot only to see the ball fly over them after it hit a clump of sand that was created due to the movement of the players. All in all, Beach Soccer is a completely different ball game and even the best footballers in the world would struggle to compete in the sand.
So, what does the future of Beach Soccer look like in India? Well, I, for one, am more than optimistic. Seeing the enthusiasm of the players and the massive crowd turnout (over a thousand people) for a sport that they have never watched before, it looks that support for the sport can only go up in the coming years. India seems to be a perfect destination for Beach Soccer, with a huge coastline, and conducive weather for the better part of the year. Moreover, infrastructure costs will definitely be lesser as almost any decent beach can be used as a pitch. The sport can serve a dual purpose, as the ecology of the beach can also be conserved along with the growth of the sport.
A special mention has to be made about the contribution for the Goa Football Association (GFA) and Goa Football Development Council (GFDC), who took great efforts to ensure that the tournament went as smoothly as it did. This just proves that if other states take the sport seriously, there is no reason for India to be lagging behind. It was clear by the end of the event that India has a vast pool of Beach Soccer players, who, with a little more training, could go on to compete at the highest level. However, what they need is more support. I hope to be part of Barefoot 2014. The question is, who else will be there with me?