What has helped transform Chennai Customs into a championship winning team?
By surging from the depths of a relegation struggle to the highs of winning a championship in consecutive seasons, Chennai Customs has completed a noteworthy transformation. Not only has Customs lifted the St. Joseph's-Chennai Football Association Senior Division league title, it has also gone through the entire season unbeaten, an excellent achievement by a team that only survived last season by a hair's-breadth via a relegation play-off. The senior division title represents the pinnacle of footballing success in the city and for a team like Customs that has for several years struggled in the lower realms, securing the championship is an achievement to cherish.
Customs' coach Robin Charles Raja, a quintessentially modest man, while displaying his elation thanked the efforts of the former Commissioner of Customs C. Rajan who was instrumental in helping the team recruit new talent. “Rajan was chiefly responsible for the recruitment spree at the beginning of the season. For over a decade, there hadn't been much in the way of recruitment at Customs, but our new policy of recruiting talent by offering jobs as an incentive for on-field performance has gone a long way towards ensuring our success.”
Support from fans
With most of its players hailing from the Pulianthope area that adjoins Nehru Stadium, wherein the league fixtures are held, the team has garnered great support from fans this season. Customs' final league game against Integral Coach Factory saw fans come out in hordes to lend their support. “Hopefully we can continue our commitment to the development of local players, by offering them jobs,” says Robin.
While some players such as M. Ramesh, who played a starring role in the final league fixture and defender James Selva Kumar were already part of the squad, several others are a product of the new recruitment policy. Players such as Williams, Bharati Raja and T. Karthikeyan, who have all been impressive this season, are among Customs' latest recruits, whereas guest players such as David, M. Karthikeyan and Parthiban are players who will be hoping that their performances this season will help them secure permanent positions.
Winning the championship may seem like a fine achievement, but as Robin was quick to add, “staying at the summit is harder than reaching it”. Ramesh who spearheaded Customs' frontline this season feels the current squad is good enough for future challenges. He said that the coach played the most crucial role in Customs' success. “Robin is a great coach, probably the best in the league. His calm demeanour and tactical acumen helped the team transform from a mid-table struggler to a championship winning side.”
Robin felt, though, that the team requires an infusion of experience to take it to the next level. “With the support of the new commissioner and the sports officer, I will look to sign a couple of players who are currently plying their trade in the I-League, to help the team consolidate its position at the top.”
Sports officer, D.S. Thiyagarajan, who has played an influential role in the recruitment spree, said that the new Commissioner, M.V.B. Rao, was also a football enthusiast and that he hoped more players would secure employment. “We will do our best to help Robin acquire the players that he feels will help take our team to the next level.”
With the recruitment drive having been justified by the triumph, this year could be a watershed for Customs, which has rarely been regarded as a title contender. If Robin's plans of signing top-quality players fructifies, this may well be the beginning of a long stay for Customs at the apex of Chennai football. What remains to be seen though is whether other teams in the league will take a leaf out of Customs' book in adopting a similar recruitment policy?