The 4th edition of the Kerala Women’s League (KWL) will begin today and it is going to be the best edition that ever happened if things go as per plans. The defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC will lock their horns against Kerala United FC at the EMS Corporation stadium in the inaugural match of this season. Unlike the previous season which featured only 6 clubs, this season will see 10 teams fighting for the title. Lord’s FA, Kerala Blasters, Basco Othukkungal, SBFA Poovar, and Emirates SC are the new additions to the league. Even though this is the fourth edition, the first two editions were conducted 8 years back and after a hiatus of 5 years after the second edition, KFA restarted the women’s league last season.
The biggest attraction of this season will be Kerala Blasters as they field their team for the first time in KWL. Ever since the launch of Blasters Women’s team, social media talks about women players have increased leaps and bounds. Manjappada, the supporters club of Kerala Blasters, are keen to support their women’s team as well and Maharajas college stadium may see a sea of yellow this season.
“Our national women’s team is better ranked than our men’s national team. India is also going to host the U-17 world cup this year. There are better chances for our women’s team to qualify for the world cup on merit than our men’s team in the future. AIFF and KFA have given more attention to women’s football in the past few years,” said Anil Kumar (General Secretary, Kerala Football Association) in the press meet.
“Around 75 players from other states have signed for KWL clubs and that too at a time when their respective state leagues are happening. 16 national team players will also don the jerseys for KWL. As many as 8 foreigners have signed contracts for various clubs which is the most for a season so far. All this indicates that we are on the right track,” Anil continued.
45 matches will be played in two venues (Kozhikode corporation stadium and Ernakulam Maharajas stadium) across 65 days. All teams will play once against each other making a total of 9 matches for each team. According to the regulations of AIFF, a team must play at least 10 matches in the state league to apply for a spot in the Indian Women’s League (IWL). Keeping that in mind, there will be a final match after the end of the league stage between the top two teams of the league.
KFA this season has introduced certain regulations intending to give more opportunities to Kerala players. 50% of players in a squad have to be Keralites and there are regulations for the number of players of local origin in the starting XI as well. Currently, no player from Kerala plays for the Indian national team and the KWL player regulations may change that.
To make the matches more competitive, only one foreigner can play in the XI even though a maximum of 4 foreigners can be signed for the team. Last year, the champions Gokulam Kerala were well above the level of other clubs and they scored 99 goals without even conceding once. On the contrary, Luca SC which finished last conceded 72 goals and score just 2. KFA intends to reduce this huge gap in quality between the teams by introducing the new player regulations.
“Last season was a reboot. The player pool was limited and hence there was a lot of difference between the top and bottom teams. There will be more competitiveness in the coming seasons as the player pool will improve”, said Anil Kumar.
Reigning champions Gokulam Kerala has the strongest squad on paper this season. However, the quest to defend the title won’t be an easy one to accomplish. Their key players like Aditi Chauhan, Dangmei Grace, Manisha Kalyan, and Elshaddai are no more part of their setup. However, with the new signings on board, the club from Malabar is hopeful of retaining the trophy. New clubs like Lord’s FA have made foreign signings and are ready to give a tough fight against the Malabarians. Lord’s FA signed a few national players and a striker from Myanmar, Win Theingi Tun, who played for Gokulam Kerala last season. Unlike last season, with the emergence of new teams, the transfer market was active and all teams made good signings from the available pool of players. If the situation continues like this, there is a possibility that the women players will get better contracts in the coming years.
“We are still facing problems with the availability of women coaches and staff. Our qualified lady coaches find it difficult to manage professional and personal life together after marriage. After marriage, we get the services of only those lady coaches who work in the sports department. Our society doesn’t support women who wish to come back to football after marriage and that needs to change. The situation is better in north-eastern states where women actively participate in sports after marriage”, observed Mr. Anil Kumar.
Despite the COVID pandemic, KFA managed to conduct Kerala Premier League (KPL) and Kerala Women’s League without a break when many other state FAs failed to do so. The well-conducted KPL raised an excellent player pool which helped Kerala to win the Santosh Trophy. Numerous KPL and Santosh Trophy players subsequently received contracts from ISL and I-League clubs. KFA also has plans to conduct U-17 and U-15 leagues this year. Ramco Cements, the sponsor of KPL and the Kerala Santosh Trophy team, is the sponsor of KWL as well.
There is a lot of room for improvement in women’s football in Kerala; nevertheless, positive changes are happening in KWL. District leagues are not being organized anywhere in Kerala and hence there is a dearth of quality players. Hopefully, the restructured Kerala Women’s League will inspire the local governing bodies to start more competitions for the ladies.
Sports Cast India will stream all the matches live on their YouTube and Facebook pages.