As we all know, the whole world is in the midst of a global pandemic for the past one year and no one has been spared. Everything went virtual, social distancing has become a norm, the whole world witnessed unexpected things and all these became the new normal. Amidst all the uncertainties, live sports were the only comfort. Football leagues around the world started conducting their season in closed stadiums. Indian Super League also followed the path which made us believe that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. In the midst of these adverse situations, it is commendable that Kerala Football Association (KFA) has raised the curtain for the seventh edition of the Kerala Premier League (KPL).
The tournament format has been restructured a bit with the Covid restrictions in mind. Usually, participating clubs in the Kerala Premier League start their preparation camp by September and participate in local tournaments like the Mayor’s Cup or G. V. Raja Tournament as part of their preparation for the KPL. However, this year around that is not the case, the schedule came late and clubs got hardly a few weeks for the preparations. KBFC’s reserve team started their camp by the beginning of March and due to the government restrictions, most of the local tournaments were called off this season. All clubs faced the same difficulty, courtesy of the pandemic. As far as KBFC reserves are concerned, last season there was continuity as players were playing back to back throughout the year as they were participating in KPL and the second division of the I-league.
The Kerala Premier League organized by KFA is the state league of Kerala, which is said to be the only active state football league in southern India. Earlier the Kaumadi trophy was considered as the state club championship. Later on, KPL as it is known now was started in 2013-2014 by KFA. KPL is now the premier club championship for the state of Kerala with only professional clubs and departmental clubs as the participating teams. The First Edition of KPL was won by Eagles F.C. The first edition got more departmental clubs registered for the league than the professional football clubs.
All the professional clubs registered in the respective district are eligible to play KPL as long as the club meets the pre-requisites set by KFA in the tournament guidelines. The scope of KPL is that the club that wins the tournament will get the ticket to take part in the I-league second division which is the tier 3 competition of the Indian football pyramid. Departmental and reserve teams won’t be considered as an entity to qualify for the I-league second division. The groupings are done by lot and there will be seedings for the lot procedure and participating clubs will be pitted into 2 groups. The top 2 teams from each group will then qualify for the semifinals. The winners of the KPL will take home the prestigious KPL trophy along with a cash prize of 3 lakhs. And the runners-up team will take home a sum of 1 lakh rupees. This year’s KPL will be the seventh edition of the competition with 12 teams battling it out to become the champions of Kerala.
KPL organizers are forced to make some tweaks in the tournament format as it was inevitable with a pandemic at our doorstep. This year’s KPL will be conducted in a single venue rather than in a Home/Away format like last year’s. Clubs are bracketed into two groups. Group A will play all their matches in the Corporation Stadium at Thrissur and Group B will play their matches in Maharajas Stadium at Kochi. The matches will be played in a round-robin format and each team meets all other teams in the group. As far as development teams are concerned this year’s KPL will be disappointing as the number of matches will be less compared to last year’s. For them, game time is very important and this year one team will only get to play 5 matches in the league stage. Interestingly, all the matches this year will be played on weekends. Considering the covid pandemic the matches will be played under strict covid protocols set by KFA. All the guidelines along with the decision to allow spectators are expected to be communicated officially from the organizers in the coming days.