Kerala football is scoring goals aplenty, yet again

Reign continues: Gokulam Kerala players celebrating after retaining the I-League title recently.

Reign continues: Gokulam Kerala players celebrating after retaining the I-League title recently. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Within a space of a fortnight, Kerala football demanded attention twice.

First, Kerala lifted the Santosh Trophy at home. At Manjeri in northern Kerala, what made the bigger news was not Kerala’s seventh title at the National football championship, though. It was the fans that got the country talking; some 27,000 of them were there to watch Kerala beating Bengal in a penalty shootout. Kerala’s victory was well deserved. It was easily the most dominant side in the tournament.

Gokulam Kerala had been just as dominant in the I-League. So much so, it had required only a draw in the last match, against Mohammedan Sporting, at Kolkata on Saturday; that too after suffering a shock loss to Sreenidi Deccan in its previous game.

And lest we forget, Kerala Blasters had finished runner-up at the ISL a couple of months ago, after going down to Hyderabad FC on penalties in the final at Margao. Yes, things are looking up for football in Kerala after a long gap. If Kerala regains its past glory, it is good for Indian football, too.

The State had for a long time used to produce some of India’s finest players. With stars like I.M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, V.P. Sathyan, C.V. Pappachan, U. Sharaf Ali, and K.T. Chacko, Kerala football was thriving in the 1990s.

Decline and revival

After that generation of fabulous players faded away, the game went on a decline in the State. It took several years and the birth of the ISL for the game to recapture the imagination of the Kerala fan.

Kerala Blasters not only has attracted some of the biggest crowds at the ISL but also built up a massive following on the social media. The birth of Gokulam Kerala was the next turning point.

The role Gokulam has played in unearthing fresh talents from Kerala has to be appreciated. Both the goals in the team’s 2-1 victory against Mohammedan Sporting were netted by home-grown players — Emil Benny and P. Rishad.

One of the impact players of the season for Blasters, Sahal Samad is also from Kerala. So is the find of the Santosh Trophy, T.K. Jesin, who netted five goals after coming on as a substitute in the semifinal against Karnataka.

After the semifinal, an NRI doctor-entrepreneur from Kerala, Shamsheer Vayalil, announced that he would gift the team Rs. 1 crore if the team won the title. He kept his word.

The State Government announced a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh each for the players and the coach. Kerala’s young players also caught the eye of the talent scouts of leading clubs.

They have also become celebrities overnight thanks to the extensive coverage of the media. Football, once again, could appeal to kids in Kerala.

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 7:59:25 am |