When Major P.S. Paul came to Victor Manjila’s house and invited him to join the Premier Tyres football team in 1972, he was thrilled. The company, at Kalamassery in Ernakulam, was posting impressive profits, it was No. 3 among Indian tyre manufacturers and it wanted to start a football team.
“I was just completing my B. Com and I joined,” said Manjila, the former Indian goalkeeper, in a chat with The Hindu at the Maharaja’s Stadium here on Wednesday.
T. Abdul Rahman, who played in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics where India entered the semifinals, was roped in as coach and he signed some of the best talent available. The team then had stars like Xavier Pius, K.P. Sethumadhavan, C.C. Jacob, and T.A. Jaffer.
With such a wonderful bunch, Premier Tyres became a powerful and popular side. Thousands thronged the grounds to cheer the stars wherever they played.
The Premier Tyres football team celebrated the 50th year of its formation at the Maharaja’s Stadium where it had played some memorable matches. The Bolghatty Football Club had arranged the event to honour the team and almost all the stars were present.
The Premier Tyres team played a big role in the revival of Kerala football. When Kerala won its maiden Santosh Trophy title in 1973, 10 were from Premier Tyres. Manjila, K.P. Sethumadhavan, Premnath Philip, C.C. Jacob, Xavier Pius and C.D. Francis went on to play for India.
Strangely, the first big first big triumph for Premier Tyres came after nearly a dozen finals. And then the next year, it won three.
Playing for Kolkata clubs
Soon, offers began to pour in from Bengal clubs.
And in 1978, four of the team’s stars — Xavier Pius, Dinakaran Premappa, Premnath Philip and Najeeb — moved to Kolkata to play for Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan.
“There were many who asked us not to go but Kolkata had a lot to offer,” said Dinakaran.
A few years later, in 1984, the team played its last match. And later, Apollo Tyres acquired Premier Tyres.
“You were as popular as Mammotty and Mohanlal those days...thank you for all the wonderful memories, for the many unforgettable moments,” said speaker after speaker while felicitating the team.
The Premier Tyres stars, many of them in their mid-seventies, played a friendly against Bolghatty Footballers after the function.