There were no big names. Yet, the 75th edition of the Santosh Trophy National football championship was a resounding success, with huge crowds turning up for many matches.
It was a fresh lease of life for a tournament that has lost much of its prestige and relevance. But if you were in Malappuram district this past fortnight, you would have wondered if the event had indeed become a shadow of its glorious past. That is more because of the football-loving people of Malappuram.
Some 27,000 of them were there at the Malappuram District Sports Complex Stadium, in a remote village called Payyanad, on Monday night to watch host Kerala lifting the trophy after defeating Bengal in the final, which went all the way to a penalty shootout. The way they cheered for their team was further proof of Malappuram’s love of the beautiful game.
When Muhammed Safnad scored the equaliser for Kerala, with just four remaining in the extra time, the atmosphere inside the stadium was incredible. The applause would not stop, the joy almost defeaning.
Till moments ago, almost all those thousands of fans had nearly given up. Regrettably, some of them – very few of them, it has to be stressed – had even thrown empty plastic bottles on the field, showing their displeasure. Thankfully the issue didn’t escalate and the focus was back on football.
Just when the Bengal players and their supporters – who knows there could have been some of them in the stands– felt the trophy could be theirs, Safnad struck.
The 22-year-old will never forget his goal or the way the crowds responded to it. If he is able to experience anything like this again in his career, he will be lucky.
Such moments do not happen to an athlete often. Such crowds you do not come across often.