Kerala football in the limelight after Santosh Trophy victory and Gokulam's I-League win

The Kerala State Government announced a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh each for the Santosh Trophy players and the coach.

Gokulam Kerala celebrates its second successive I-League triumph.   -  AIFF MEDIA

Within a space of a fortnight, Kerala football demanded attention twice.

First, Kerala lifted the Santosh Trophy at home at Manjeri in northern Kerala. What made the bigger news was not Kerala’s seventh title at the National football championship, but the fans that got the country talking. Approximately 27,000 of them were present to watch Kerala beat Bengal in a penalty shootout.

Kerala’s victory was well deserved as it was the most dominant side in the tournament.

Gokulam Kerala had been just as dominant in the I-League. So much so, it had required only a draw in the last match, against Mohammedan Sporting, at Kolkata on Saturday; that too after suffering a shock loss to Sreenidi Deccan in its previous game.

In the Indian Super League (ISL), the Kerala Blasters had finished runner-up a couple of months ago, after going down to Hyderabad FC on penalties in the final at Margao. Things are looking up for football in Kerala after a long gap. If Kerala regains its past glory, it is good for Indian football, too.

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The State had for a long time, produced some of India’s finest players. With stars like I.M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, V.P. Sathyan, C.V. Pappachan, U. Sharaf Ali and K.T. Chacko, Kerala football was thriving in the 1990s.

After that generation of fabulous players faded away, the game went on a decline. It took several years and the birth of the ISL for the game to recapture the imagination of the Kerala fan.

Kerala Blasters has not only attracted some of the biggest crowds of the ISL, but built up a massive following on social media as well.

The birth of Gokulam Kerala was the next turning point. The role Gokulam has played in unearthing fresh talents from Kerala has to be appreciated. Both the goals in the team’s 2-1 victory against Mohammedan Sporting were netted by home-grown players – Emil Benny and P. Rishad.

One of the impact players of the season for Blasters, Sahal Samad, too is from Kerala. So is the find of the Santosh Trophy, T.K. Jesin, who netted five goals after coming on as a substitute in the semifinal against Karnataka.

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After the semifinal, an NRI doctor-entrepreneur from Kerala, Shamsheer Vayalil, announced that he would gift the team Rs. 1 crore if the team won the title. He kept his word.

The State Government announced a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh each for the players and the coach. Kerala’s young players also caught the eye of the talent scouts of leading clubs.

They have also become celebrities overnight thanks to the extensive coverage of the media. Football, once again, could appeal to kids in Kerala.

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