Football in Kerala, a dismal picture of deterioration

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  • Published 8.11.02

Kerala soccer isn’t the same any more. The lustre has worn out, the enigma is no more, the nursery is withering. A state which has given the country players like I.M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, V. Pappachan and many more, looks a mere shadow of their past.

So what if the state finished runners-up in the recently concluded 58th national football championship for the Santosh Trophy? There is no star value attached to the state any more. And that is the fact.

There was a time when Kerala footballers were a hit. Recruiters moved in from Bengal, especially, literally carrying bagfuls of money and promises galore. It was one such concerted move that brought Vijayan to Calcutta, despite his not wanting to leave Kerala and his hometown Thrissur and despite his Kerala Police senior Pappachan advising him against it.

The rest is history.

Well, Kerala Police does not have a team any more. “The police bosses thought it wasn’t a worthwhile investment,” said G. Sugunan, secretary Kerala Football Association, to The Telegraph in a recent interview. That killed a generation of hopes. “There is no money in football in Kerala any more,” said Sugunan. “No sponsors, no television. Believe me, even in Kerala cricket is the big thing now.”

Today’s stars in Kerala, whatever coach M. Peethambaran might say, are rather dim in the country’s soccer firmament. Suresh Babu is ageing, K. Ajayan may have represented the country (at the Busan Asian Games) but is yet to set himself up as anything more than just that. And there have been no bidders either. T. Asif Shaheer is a fast attacker, but has not shown enough in footwork that could hold a candle to the wiles of a Vijayan.

The rest are good, and just that.

So what is the problem? Why is a state, in parts of which soccer is almost religion, lagging behind in the professional front (the state has no representation in the National Football League, with State Bank of Travancore and FC Kochin way out of sync)?

Sugunan may be an organiser. But Mohanachandra, president of the Kerala Sports Council, a government man, is as worried. “What haven’t we done? We provide jobs, we provide good coaches who hold secure jobs, we provide facilities, and then whoever shines just leaves us and goes, just as Vijayan did,” he says.

Look deep into the system. And look at the overall economic scenario of Kerala, a state not too far from bankruptcy. You will see too much security, too much ‘organisational bureaucracy’, so to say. Then you will also hear complaints like “we give them all and they go away.”

So why isn’t Kerala able to create a soccer money market like Bengal is, even if the government is out on a leg. The Bengal government, too has failing economic health. But the IFA keeps getting those funds.

Asked these questions the two officials refuse to agree, but neither do they disagree. “Let just one of our teams be back at the National Football League, and you’ll see,” says Sugunan. So what’s the club, or the association, doing to push a club to the NFL? Nothing.

It is a vicious circle. There isn’t any good football because there isn’t any talent. There isn’t any talent because there isn’t a good, big pool of footballers. There isn’t a good, big pool of footballers because there isn’t any money. There isn’t any money because there isn’t any talent…

“The AIFF is to blame, too,” says Sugunan. “The last Fifa-AFC delegation that came to oversee Indian facilities went everywhere but to Kerala. When we asked, we were told that they need not visit places where infrastructure is good. But then, why did they visit Bengal, why Goa?”

And what did the KFA do to try and pressure the AIFF to get those Fifa-AFC people to Kerala? “What could we do?”

Probably it is a problem of attitude. Probably an attitude that grows from too much apparent security.