Kerala's SBT football club faces extinction woes

According to sources, SBI has already decided to discontinue sports teams of all its associate banks which include State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Jaipur and Bikaner.

Kerala needs more football clubs. Not lose the ones we have," said former SBT and Kerala Blasters forward Mohammed Rafi.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

The future of one of the most iconic football clubs from Kerala, State Bank of Travancore (SBT), hangs in the balance after the PSU bank's merger with the State Bank of India (SBI).

The bank was delisted from the Bombay Stock Exchange on Friday and all of its branches have been changed to SBI. According to sources, SBI has already decided to discontinue sports teams of all its associate banks which include State Bank of Hyderabad, State Bank of Mysore, State Bank of Patiala and State Bank of Jaipur and Bikaner.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that SBI has no provisions to recruit sportpersons.

The football club has been the integral part of Kerala's football culture and has contributed nine players to the Indian national football team which includes the likes of Jo Paul Anchery, N. P. Pradeep, Abdul Hakkim and Mohammed Rafi.

Nine players of the Kerala side that reached in the semifinal of the recently-concluded Santosh Trophy were also from SBT football club. Over the years the SBT has provided cricketers and footballers jobs through sports quota.

"I haven't heard whether the team will be disbanded but I hope they continue. SBT provided a platform for us to shine in the national stage. Kerala needs more football clubs. Not lose the ones we have," said former SBT and Kerala Blasters forward Mohammed Rafi to Sportstar.

The football club, based in Thiruvananthapuram, was formed in 1986 and made its debut in 1987 in the Trivandrum district 'E' division league, under the Kerala football association.

SBT won the state championship in 1996 but was denied the opportunity to play in the National Football League (NFL) due to the emergence of India’s first professional football club, FC Cochin, from the state.

SBT was given an entry into the national second division league and became runner-up in its inaugural season. In the 1998-99 season the team won the second division league to earn a pass to the NFL.

SBT is the only institutional club to have won a national league till date and the club’s demise could mark the end of an era when institutional clubs such as Premier Tyres, Kerala Police, FACT and Indian Bank dominated Indian football.

Fertilisers And Chemicals, Travancore (FACT) went into a major loss towards the late 1990s while Premier Tyres was taken over by the Apollo group around the same time.

The money drying up in the parent company meant the end of the road for these clubs. With the All Indian Football Federation now favouring corporate-backed teams, it is very unlikely that we will see a top institutional club in the future.

All hope is not lost in the SBT camp though, with some officials still confident that SBI will continue the historic football club albeit under a new label.