Thoufeer Kaitha Valappil took 20 years to attend a match for the France team. It was in 2018 during the World Cup in Russia. Inevitably, when you live in the state of Kerala, on the southwest coast of India, the tricolor passion is lived essentially by proxy. On the other hand, the love that this young thirty-year-old has for the Blues is very sincere. At Les Bleus and Les Bleues moreover, otherwise he would not have traveled 8000 kilometers to see them play in Rotherham, in the suburbs of Sheffield. But where does this slightly crazy passion come from? We asked him the question.
He arrives on the forecourt of New York Stadium with a mixture of breathlessness and relief, exactly one hour before the start of the France-Iceland match. The same morning, Thoufeer Kaitha Valappil woke up with a small fever and some chills. Nothing to do with the game he was about to attend. Rather with the heat wave that hit England earlier this week. “Even in India, I don’t remember having experienced such temperatures” , exclaims the young man, not yet at the end of his troubles. Around noon, his state of health stabilizes, and he decides to go to Rotherham from Birmingham, two hours away, where he is hosted free of charge by cousins during the tournament. “But I was not at the end of my troubleshe continues. With the heat wave, all the trains were delayed, I really thought I would never make it! » We therefore understand the relief that inhabits him: Thoufeer still hit 8000 kilometers and spent 2500 euros to attend the meetings of the Blue during this Euro 2022. It would still have been a shame if it were the mercury that came to spoil his journey.
The love story of “Thoufy” with the Blues began in 1998, in his hometown of Kozhikode, a “small” town of 600,000 inhabitants located in the state of Kerala, on the Malabar coast. There, football is far from holding high in the hearts of the locals, but they do not escape the broadcast of the French World Cup. “At the time, I was still a kid, but I followed my father and my uncle who watched all the games on a small TV in the street with neighbors. In 1998, it was France who dominated world football, we only had eyes for its immense players, Thuram, Vieira, Dugarry and of course, the legend Zinedine Zidane, with the two goals he scored for us in the final. He became my favorite player and meeting him in person is still one of my goals in life. »
“We started to support the Blues because at home, we didn’t have a team as such. India, sportingly, it did not exist. »
If Thoufeer says spontaneously ” we ” to talk about the France team, it is because the enthusiasm caused by the first star did not end in flash in the pan. “We started to support the Blues because at home, we didn’t have a team as such. India, sportingly, it did not exist. Since then, we have remained faithfulremembers the interested party. It must be said that the beginnings were easy, since after the World Cup, we won Euro 2000 and the Confederations Cup a year later. But we went through darker periods: in 2002, between 2008 and 2012… If we had to drop the case, we would have done so at that time. But we didn’t, that means our love for Les Bleus is real! »
So real that after four years of struggling without an official structure, this love materialized in 2014 with the creation of a fan club, the French Fans Kerala, in reference to the cradle of Indian passion for the Tricolores. Since then, the group has continued to grow and now has 2,500 carded members across the country, which prompted the association to rename itself French Football Fans Club India, in addition to 18,000 followers on social networks. “Membership is not expensive, only 500 rupees (six euros) per yearexplains Thoufeer, re-elected president of the group the day before the France-Iceland match. And with this money, we set up charity actions. As football is far from being the most popular sport in India, we started by donating equipment to local clubs. Since then, we participate in tournaments and we take the opportunity to raise funds to help poor people or victims of natural disasters throughout the country. »
Girls-boys, one passion
By dint of living his passion from a distance, Thoufeer wanted to take the plunge and see his heroes in person. First attempt: 2014 World Cup. Failed, Brazil refused him his visa. Rebelote four years later in Russia. It’s time, it’s won, but only until the quarter-finals, again for a visa story. “I was selected by the group to represent them therereplays Thoufeer. But it was purely symbolic. Financially, I had to fend for myself. » Concretely, the young man, who was then working as ground staff for the airline Jet Airways, had to borrow 2,500 euros from the bank, to which he added 1,000 from his own pocket to realize his dream. “But it was worth it! There, I met Hervé Mougin, the president of Les Irrésistibles Français, and Clément d’Antibes, with his rooster! I felt really welcome, I felt like part of the family. »
“I find Corinne Deacon great! How come she gets criticized? In any case on this tournament, I do not understand, she makes her players play perfectly. »
After being welcomed as a hero on his return (perhaps also because the Blues went to get their second star), Thoufeer added a string to his bow by starting to follow the French women’s team. “I must admit that I started late, but the World Cup in France was a good starting point. Moreover, within the group, it brought us a lot of new members who were enthusiastic to see girls playing football. Since then, I support them with the same passion as the boys, even if they play in a different way. But it is useless to compare them, anyway, we encourage France, without making any distinction. Same thing in the European Cup, we are for the clubs in which a French player plays. » Contaminated by the travel virus and now more comfortable financially since he works for an HR box based in Dubai, Thoufeer did not hesitate for a second to go to England. “The biggest advantage is that the tickets cost almost nothing: about five pounds per game. And thanks to my cousins in Birmingham, I don’t have to pay for accommodation. Only the plane cost me an arm and a leg, but hey, at the same time, we’re in the middle of summer…”
At the Euro, his personal favorites are Delphine Cascarino, Sakina Karchaoui and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, whose injury to the crusaders he deplores, while remaining convinced that “Les Bleues have a real chance of lifting the Cup, even if it will be tough in the quarters against the Netherlands” . And the supporter to underline the importance of Corinne Deacon in this mission to accomplish: “I find it great! How come she gets criticized? In any case on this tournament, I do not understand, she makes her players play perfectly. We saw it against Italy where they scored five in the first half and against Belgium, where they managed their lead very well. » It remains to be seen whether the 8000 kilometers traveled will serve as a lucky charm for Les Bleues for the rest of their tournament. Thoufeer has in any case planned to stay until the final. The rest of his personal program is already known: “I already have my tickets for the boys’ games in September for the Nations League. It will be my first time at the Stade de France, and then I will follow them to Denmark. For Qatar, same thing, all my tickets are reserved. » Those whose level of French is limited to basic greetings, “because of the pronunciation too difficult” still managed to learn the words of The Marseillaise. And even if he is not sure to know how to sing it correctly, one thing is certain: he puts all his heart into it.
By Julien Duez, in Rotherham
Photos: JD and DR.