Kochi: Kerala achieved a major milestone in sport in 1973 when the state team won Santosh Trophy, the national football championship, for the first time. To rekindle memories of the historic occasion, ‘Malayala Manorama’ organised an event at its office hall here on Friday as part of the golden jubilee of the victory where the coach Simon Sundararaj and 12 among the team members were honoured.
Malayala Manorama Editor Philip Mathew and Kerala Football Association president Navas Meeran presented mementoes to the team at the function, which was attended by family members of the players.
‘Teacher, not coach’
Addressing the gathering, coach Simon Sundararaj was humility personified, stating that he was a teacher to the team and not a coach. “Coach is a new term. Moreover, it has a military connotation. I acted as a coach to the players and only passed on my knowledge about the game to them,” he said.
“Kerala lifted its maiden Santosh Trophy by effectively blending the experience of senior players and the vigour of the juniors,” he added.
However, only junior and amateur players are allowed to take part in the Santosh Trophy at present, making the event unattractive to football fans. “Matches at the championship are held in near-empty stadiums now. Moreover, we need seniors to guide the juniors,” said Sundararaj.
Goalkeeper recalls the tense moments
G Raveendran Nair was the goalkeeper for Kerala in the final match against the Railways which the state won by the score 3-2. “I was fielded for the final only because the main goalkeepers Victor Manjila and K P Sethumadhavan were injured. The second goal of Railways was a fluke. I could have gathered the shot at the goal, but the ball slipped out of my hand. Even now, I rue my lapse,” he said, recalling the match held at Maharaja’s College Stadium in Kochi.
“When the score was 3-2 in favour of Kerala, my tension mounted. The time for the final whistle was approaching and I had to prevent another goal by Railways at any cost. At that time, the spectators behind the goalpost roared, ‘Son, hold on for just a couple of minutes more. We will win!”
“Then the ball reached me. I collected it and was preparing to kick it when the final whistle was blown. I still preserve that ball as a treasure,” said Raveendran Nair.
He also remembered that 11 goalkeepers were injured during the tournament.
Players C C Jacob, K P Sethumadhavan and P P Prasannan spoke about the plight of the champions who are all but forgotten in Kerala. “When Goa won the Santosh Trophy those days, the government granted every player an amount of Rs one lakh and five cents of land. But, in Kerala, we received a mere Rs 1,000 each,” they said.
The players added that some among them were now surviving on the PF pension.
Victor Manjila, N V Babu Nair, N Etty Mathew, M Mithran, P Poulose, Blacy George, A Najimudeen and K Williams were the other players who spoke.
T A Jaffer and Xavier Pius could not take part in the event owing to health issues. Panakkad Abdul Hamid and Dr Muhammed Basheer also did not attend as they had some personal business.
Players’ fund mooted
In his speech, KFA chief Navas Meeran said that a fund would be set up for the welfare of the players. “I cannot promise former players how they will benefit from the fund. However, with the game becoming professional and the revenue of KFA rising, the financial gains will be passed on to players also,” he said.
“The new-generation players receive big payments. We are planning guidance programmes for them on managing finance,” he said.
Former president of KFA K M A Mather elaborated on the series of court cases the association had to face while hosting the Santosh Trophy in 1973.