It’s no surprise that football is Goa’s favourite sport. It’s played more than any other sport by youth across the state. In fact, football is so popular, that even animals play it. Well, maybe not all animals, but there certainly is one that does. For over six months now, the villagers in Mardol have noticed a particular cow who loves to get in on the game. She loves football so much, she apparently holds on to the ball and does not let others near it. This rare and astonishing feat was finally captured on video a few days ago and has gone viral. The video has been shared predominantly through WhatsApp but has also made its way to YouTube, making this amazing animal, BallGai, an international star.
According to Mardol’s football club president, Kishore Dattaram Naik, “she was donated to the temple a few years ago, and strays across the village.” He goes on to say, “Maybe she is trying to tell the boys to put down their mobile phones, and come to the ground and play.” Naik claims that for many years now the football ground was not being used, but after this particular cow started ‘playing football’, the kids in the village have decided to get in on the game as well. Truth be told, it’s these very boys that coined the name BallGai, because what else will you call a football playing cow?
Not all is fine and dandy for the resident kids from Mardol. Most of them come from humble backgrounds, with very little income for a three-year college degree. So to make a little money, they take up small errands and odd jobs. But now that BallGai has kind of put Mardol on the map, the boys in the area are hoping to get some recognition from their favourite international footballer – Ronaldo. So loved is this beautiful beast, that Sahil Naik, the Mardol Football Club mid-fielder who is seen in the video, says that whenever they see her on the ground, they never react harshly because they see her as a mother. Also, if they try to mess with her, she will probably kick them four ways!
A football lover, or just a lover?
A football playing cow is definitely a rarity, but BallGai seems to have become a staple of Mardol. Vendors, kids, and even the police are used to seeing this unique cow playing football regularly. So intent is she on playing the game, that the mere sound of the ball hitting the ground draws her attention. The boys claim that they need to schedule their practices around BallGai, and often plan for hour and a half sessions – an hour for them to play, and half an hour to humour BallGai. This spills over to games as well, with traffic police constable, Vijay Mardolkar stating, “we sometimes have to time the match to avoid her disrupting the game’s flow – we haven’t managed it yet.”
A football thudding, people cheering, the sounds of the game seem to catch BallGai’s attention, and the football playing cow comes from wherever she is to participate. This entails holding the ball at mid-field and not letting anyone take it from her. This interesting behaviour caught the attention of Benhail Antao, a well known and respected animal lover and wildlife conservationist who seems to think that this particular cow is actually displaying misplaced maternal feelings. In a post on Facebook, Antao admits to not being a bovine expert but posits that this form of possessive behaviour could indicate that the animal may have lost a calf, or is unable to reproduce, hence is particularly attracted to and possessive of an object – in this case a football. Antao may not be altogether wrong, especially since the Mardol villagers admit that BallGai does exhibit the same behaviour with regards to gas cylinders. According to Vijay, “she will go near the cylinder and make sure no one touches it. “She sits next to a cylinder guarding it, till everyone around is tired waiting for her to leave.”
The star of Mardol
It is indeed difficult to understand the mindset of ‘the football playing cow’, what draws her to the sport, and what her intentions are. But one thing is for sure, she is truly loved by the people of Mardol. So much is their love for BallGai, that they are planning a felicitation for her. While the club president, Kishore Naik, suggests a few kilograms of grass, the boys have suggested that they gift her her very own football. The boys are gearing up for two major upcoming tournaments, with Rs 30,000 and Rs 50,000 on the line. Will they emerge victoriously? Well, they have the blessing of BallGai, Goa’s football playing cow. What could go wrong?
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