The Kerala Premier League, the football league run by the state football association KFA (Kerala Football Association) has been in shambles since its inception in 2013.
Last minute changes in fixtures, unpaid player salaries, lack of basic ground infrastructure are some of the issues that have hogged the limelight as the KPL just about holds on for survival in its fifth season.
The tournament that kicked off in 2013 with 12 participants has struggled to match the expectations of the football-loving state of Kerala. The first title was clinched by Eagles FC, a club that was later disbanded. SBI (State Bank Of India) Kerala team won back-to-back titles before KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) became champions last year. It is worth noting that all the winners so far are either disbanded or Government departmental clubs.
Last-ditch moves failing all parties concerned
A few days before the fifth season kicked off, defending champions KSEB and another departmental team, namely AG's Office, pulled out of the tournament citing financial and internal issues. And as a result, the ongoing KPL is a 10-team affair.
Interestingly, Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters have chosen to field a reserve team in the KPL. In the tournament that kicked off on April 7, 2018, the only ISL team from Kerala has played just the league opener against FC Thrissur which they lost 1-2.
The team has since focused on their I-League second division commitments. FC Kerala's KPL fixtures were also changed due to the same league commitments. The fixture list was altered at least twice since the start of the season. The latest update of the fixture list has Kerala Blasters resuming their KPL duties on May 3rd against FC Thrissur.
Lack of professionalism a regular obstacle
The lack of professionalism from the participants has not helped the KFA sort out issues. The KPL even endured a walkover last season when players of Kozhikode-based Quartz FC refused to play an away match reportedly due to non-payment of wages. The club was forced to pull out and the FA had to change the fixtures yet again. Quartz were punished with a hefty fine and after winning a qualifier before the league, the team was allowed back into the KPL this season.
The competition format was changed last year so that the clubs play home and away games from their respective groups to seek progression into the final round. However, two-time champions SBI Kerala, a team from the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, are sharing a 'home' ground in Kochi.
Infrastructure is the basic necessity for every league
Match-day experiences have been not been pleasing either. Without proper seats at several local stadia where the matches are held and little promotion of the event by the organizers, there has been little to no crowd support for most of the games. And the hundred or so people that turn out are unlikely to come back for another game. Everybody associated with the KPL looks disinterested and it looks like a league carried out just for the sake of having a 'top-tier' league in the state.
Here's Shamnas, Excise's Santosh Trophy winner and his teammate, on a pavement opposite the ground. Drenched. Without a "dressing room" to take cover, the players have scattered, some under trees. This for you is #KeralaPremierLeague pic.twitter.com/B5NZxxjdir— Arun George (@saysarun) April 21, 2018
Kerala's footballers have potential but they need a proper league to ply their trade in. Underwhelming attempts to run or take part in a 'professional' league like the KPL will not help change the sorry state of affairs of football in the state. Clubs can improve and so can the FA.