Bengaluru: When Karnataka takes the field on Wednesday for the South Zone leg of the Santosh Trophy, it will have been 49 years since the State last won the National Football Championship. It was in March 1969 that Mysore (as it then was) overcame Bengal in the final at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. After a goalless draw, Krishnaji Rao’s men won the replay 1-0 before a delirious home crowd. That victory — in what was the Silver Jubilee edition of the Santosh Trophy — marked successive titles for Mysore, which had also triumphed in 1967-68 in Cuttack.
“The win was purely down to team-work,” recalls Amjad Khan, who was an integral part of the success. “We had seven or eight players from the 1967 batch; that Cuttack team was like a machine. We had the likes of Krishnaji, A.D. Nagendra, Ramudu, Arokia Das, and Nataraj. We were also lucky to have an intelligent coach in G.M.H. Basha.”
Nagendra, now Treasurer of the Karnataka State Football Association, was playing in central defence that day. “The Kanteerava stadium was jam-packed,” he says. “There were spectators even on the cycling track around the pitch. Bengal practically had the full Indian team, but we defeated them.”
M.S. Krishnamurthy, Chairman of the KSFA Referees Committee, was also part of the Mysore squad. “Prabhakar took the corner and Nataraj headed it in; that was the winning goal,” he recollects.
Players received no match fees or prize money. There was a reception hosted by Veerendra Patil, the then Chief Minister, where they were presented suits and medals. A few years ago, the KSFA awarded small sums of cash to surviving members of that victorious squad. “We played just for the honour of it,” says Amjad, now the KSFA’s Deputy Secretary.
Karnataka made the final twice afterwards — in 1970-71 and 75-76 — but has not come close to winning the Santosh Trophy since.
“It is hard to pin-point a reason [for the decline in standards],” feels Amjad. “There are various factors; the lack of jobs is definitely one. There’s no more motivation for the players (to play the Santosh Trophy). They should have some financial security, no?”