Kerala needs to look beyond Santosh Trophy

If the Santosh Trophy loss forces the Kerala Football Association to look into the ills plaguing the game in the State, there could be some gain from the pain in Imphal, says STAN RAYAN.

DESPITE THE flop show in the Santosh Trophy final, there is certain smugness in the Kerala football officialdom. After all, haven't our players come farther than the game's current bigwigs, Bengal and Goa? Haven't our boys churned out some exciting victories?

Though the side did not have big names such as I. M. Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri, team spirit saw it through some close encounters. And the State Bank of Travancore factor (a majority of the Kerala players are with the Thiruvananthapuram-based bank) played a big role in working out effective combinations in both the quarterfinal league and the semi-final.

Clearly, Imphal was tougher than Mumbai, where the last National Championship was held. Crowd violence, and the strange verdict in the abandoned semifinal between the hosts, Manipur, and Goa certainly put pressure on Kerala in the final.

"Even the World Cup isn't as important as winning the Santosh Trophy in Kerala," the team's coach, M. Peethambaran, is reported to have said before the final against Manipur.

For a State, which has seen both its star clubs, SBT and F.C. Kochin, crash out of the National League in successive years, the Santosh Trophy has been the sole consolatory factor. The Kerala Football Association too has been projecting the Santosh Trophy as their big weapon against critics.

"The KFA is contented with the Santosh Trophy these days,'' says Olympian O. Chandrasekharan.

"True, our boys deserve a lot of credit for their performance. The three-man attack did very well in the early stages. But our full team (SBT) could not even win the second division National League, last season. That should put the whole thing in proper perspective,'' says Chandrasekharan, a member of the Indian team which won the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games gold, the country's last big success at the Continental meet.

"Sadly, there is no football in Kerala now. We don't have any good tournaments. Only Malappuram is an exception. The people there are genuinely interested in football and we have a few players from the district, including captain Asif Saheer, in the State team,'' says Chandrasekharan.

Kerala needs to look beyond Santosh Trophy

"And the Imphal final was often just a hit-and-run game. The basic skill was not there. Things were much better 40 years ago. The Santosh Trophy has lost its glory," agrees another former international, M. M. Jacob. "The game needs a big pep-up," he adds.

H. Ahmed, the chief Physician at the Karothukuzhi Hospital at Aluva, and a soccer enthusiast, has some interesting suggestions. "Every district should have a league of its own. Instead of being played daily, matches should be played only during weekends, to draw the crowds.''

"I worked in Preston for five years. And some of the top clubs in the country, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton, are located near Preston. So, I got to see some very good football.

"In England, each district has three active divisions. Likewise, our districts such as Malappuram, Kozhikode and Thrissur should have active leagues of their own. And, to make it glamorous, clubs should sell their own jerseys, caps etc. Regular competitions should be held between top clubs of various districts. The prize-money too should be good,'' says Ahmed.

The KFA could also try and emulate the innovative Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). The KCA plans to bring in a few prominent businessmen into the association, on an experimental basis. Apart from allowing them to play a role in the game's administration, this move could also provide a financial boost to cricket in the State.

Clearly, someone has to set the ball rolling.

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