I.M. Vijayan may have quit the game long ago. But the reception he received on turning up to watch the India-Palestine international friendly match showed that the former Indian international still held sway over football fans. People waved at him and rushed to shake his hands even as many others were seen snapping his picture on their mobile phones.
He was soon joined by another former national player and captain Jo Paul Ancheri. Both of them then took a stroll along the VIP section acknowledging the crowd.
Speaking to The Hindu during the half-time break, Vijayan said he was impressed with the performance of the Indian team. But he felt that the crowd turnout was a letdown.
Jo Paul said the players were more skilful and were playing a better brand of football.
Former Olympian O. Chandrasekharan and former Indian International C.C. Jacob were delighted about the quality of the well-contested match. Another former national player Ajayan felt that the Palestinians played a better possession game than the Indians, who had also switched to a similar style from the long ball-based game of the past.
“Things will only improve as the young players gain more experience under the new coach.” He said though the turnout for the match could not be compared to the high attendance level for cricket matches it was still impressive. He added that a few I League matches of Chirag United held in the same ground recently also received a damp response.
Members of the Kerala team set to compete in the forthcoming Santhosh Trophy were also present. Surjith, a team member, was delighted with the one-touch game played by the Indian team under the new coach. The game would improve further as the team played more matches, he said.