When two Durand champions got together

Players of FC Kochin an Gokulam Kerala had a memorable meeting.

Gouklam coach Fernando Santiago Varela (left) with captain Marcus Joseph and Jo Paul Ancheri on Saturday.   -  K. Ragesh

When Gokulam Kerala made the final of the Durand Cup last week, many football fans, especially those with a sense of history, wanted to find out the previous winners from the State. In the 131-year-history of Asia's oldest tournament, only one Kerala team lifted the champion’s trophy, they learnt.

That team, FC Kochin, though was disbanded long ago. Kochin had won the Durand Cup in 1997, within just six months of its formation.

Down memory lane

Jo Paul Ancheri and A.M. Sreedharan must have dribbled down memory lane on Saturday afternoon at Hotel Malabar Palace. Ancheri, one of the brightest stars in the star-studded Kochin team, and Sreedharan, the coach, were there to meet the new heroes of Kerala football — Gokulam’s young men who stunned their fancied rivals en route to a remarkable win at Kolkata.

“I was watching them on television during the Durand Cup and they did really well to defeat teams like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in back-to-back matches,” Sreedahran told Sportstar. “They have the potential to be a really strong side.”

Need for more quality

He feels Gokulam needs a few more quality players. “Some of their players are excellent, but you need quality in every department of the team and a strong bench as well,” he said. “At FC Kochin, we had outstanding players for every position.”

One of those players, Jo Paul, hopes the Durand Cup would inspire Gokulam to do greater things. “Nobody has ever won the I-League from Kerala, but Gokulam could do it,” he said.

“And I am really happy that football in Kerala, and India, is looking up once again after being down for so many years. After the ISL, we have begun to unearth fresh talents and it is showing in Indian team’s performance in international tournaments.”

Marcus Joseph, who led Gokulam’s campaign at the Durand Cup from the front with 11 goals, said the team’s aim was to win the tournament when it left the city. “And everyone contributed,” he said.

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