Sitting with his fellow players on the reserve bench of the Kerala Police side, the team’s senior I. M. Vijayan, a one-time star National-level footballer, could handle the tension no more. It was the penalty shoot-out phase in the semi-final match between Kerala Police and RCF Kapurthala in the AIMA-TFA shield all-India tournament at Nehru Stadium.
For one who in his playing days was the source of tension for opposing teams, it was unusual to see him squirm in his seat. And when Kerala Police won, Vijayan was all smiles, taking out his phone to flash the news to U. Sharaf Ali, his former teammate, now a Commandant with the Malappuram base of the Malabar Special Police. Significantly, Sharaf is overall in-charge of football activities in the Police.
Together on the field once as Kerala Police players, Sharaf and Vijayan may have had many back-slapping moments, but, with time, their responsibilities changed, as did life. While Vijayan drifted from the Police to pursue club football, Sharaf stuck to his career. Vijayan was redrafted as an Assistant Sub-Inspector only last month, after playing his last big match for India in 2003. “It’s all right. Sharaf sir is Commandant and his post has to be respected,” he said, while asking his one-time colleague to brief the players about the match. However, Kerala Police lost the final to local team ICF, despite Vijayan himself.
Life had never been easy for Vijayan right from the start. He was picked off the streets of Thrissur as a 17-year-old, by the then DGP of Kerala Police and a sports-lover M.K. Joseph, who spotted the boy’s talent.
It was a hand-to-mouth existence for the family that survived on the meagre earnings of their mother who worked as a maid. Football changed all that. From the police barracks in Thiruvananthapuram began his career that saw Vijayan emerge as one of India’s most popular footballers — ‘Vijayan’ in his home town and ‘Bijoyan’ on the Kolkata maidan. Fame took him to the top clubs in India and his skills fetched him several ‘football of the year’ awards and the coveted Arjuna Award in 2003.
Football provided a new perspective to his life. He earned enough to build his own house, ensure his ageing mother did not have to struggle and that his wife and three children could live in comfort. His son, already in the Kerala state U-16 team, promises to keep the ‘Vijayan’ legacy going.
When Vijayan’s playing career ended in 2006, uncertainty prevailed. What would he do next? An academy remained a dream. Offers from the movie world kept him in the public domain for a while.
Ultimately, he did what he knew best, play football. “I decided to go back to ‘sevens’,” (a popular but banned version of football where each side plays with seven players and there’s a lot of betting involving money),” he said. One wise move, which paid off, was investing in a sports goods factory.
The opportunity to return to Kerala Police came suddenly but a senior Police officer reckoned Vijayan would be far better on the football field than in uniform! “You would fare better in a football academy,” was the advice.
Thus began a new chapter in his life at the Cheroor police ground, Thrissur. “The Kerala Police decided to launch a football academy and vested me with the responsibility. Around 450 children came for the initial selection. Such is the interest,” the 43-year old veteran says, even as he dreams of bringing Kerala Police back to performing at its best.
Keywords: AIMA-TFA shield all-India tournament