You would find that number and that name as you go through the players’ list of Kerala Police at the 42nd State inter-club football championship, in progress here. Yes, it is the same man who was, in his prime, India’s finest, most loved and feared – if you are a rival defender – striker.
I. M. Vijayan, former Indian captain and scorer of one of the fastest goals in international football, just does not want to stop playing football, though he would turn 47 later this month. And he is glad that he is back in the tournament, where it had all begun for him, way back in 1987 at Malappuram, which is not far from here.
“I was just 18 then and that State inter-club championship was my first big event; I had recently joined Kerala Police,” Vijayan told Sportstar here on Thursday. “I was named the most promising player of the tournament; that meant a lot to me. It certainly was one of the turning points of my career.”
He went on to play for Kerala Police at the State inter-club championship till 1991, when he joined Mohun Bagan. “I came back to Kerala Police in 1992 before returning to Kolkata again a year later,” he recalled. “The State inter-club championship was pretty huge then; it was a tournament that every player and spectator looked forward to. We had top teams like KSEB, KSRTC, Travancore Titanium, Keltron and SBT.”
He said the tournament featured quality players from many different teams. “There were stars like Thomas Sebastian (Titanium), Apukuttan (KSEB), Ganesh (KSRTC) and C.M. Sudheer, A.M. Ajith, A.V. Rajeev and M. Naveen (Keltron),” he said. “My own team, Kerala Police, had big players like C.V. Pappachan, U. Sharaf Ali, V.P. Sathyan, Kurikesh Mathew and P.P. Thobias.”
Little wonder that big crowds thronged the venues to watch the State inter-club matches. “If there are no big crowds for these days, that is because we don’t have big stars in Kerala football anymore,” he said. “It is disappointing to see that the championship has lost its glamour. We still have good teams in Kerala still, though. But, they deserve better grounds than the one this tournament has.”
Vijayan, who rejoined Kerala Police in 2012, said the administrators should ensure the quality of the ground. “The Thiruvananthapuram district league, in which many of the best teams in Kerala are playing, is being staged on a poor ground outside the city, when we have two or three excellent stadia,” he said. “Important tournaments should be played only on grass fields.”
Though he remained on the bench for both of his team’s games in this tournament, he indicated he might come in as a substitute in the semi-final against SBT on Friday. “Before this tournament, I had played in the All-India Police Games,” he said. “And I had played at a ‘sevens’ tournament at Kondotty. There is nothing quite like playing.”
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