SANTOSH TROPHY | The win which changed Kerala football forever

Victor Manjila the former Indian goalkeeper and one of the members of victorious 1973 Santosh Trophy team
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Fifty years on, the fragrance of Kerala’s first Santosh Trophy triumph is still sweet, and so too are its memories. It was a humongous achievement by underdogs Kerala on that frigid December evening at the Maharaja’s College Stadium, and it changed the future of the Beautiful Game in the State forever.

Captain Mani with his hat-trick in the final against Railways gained immortality and his bunch of talented players became the first real superstars of the State. For the first time in the history of the State, the Government declared a public holiday to commemorate the title win by a sports team.

Kerala’s maiden Santosh Trophy win was very much unforeseen in an era where the game was dominated by Bengal. Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were formidable sides and Kerala was a rank outsider in the tournament.

The 1973 Santosh Trophy was played under floodlights and the entire Kerala team was playing under lights for the first time. The tournament started rather ominously for the host as it lost its first choice goalkeeper Victor Manjila to a fractured shoulder in the opening match against Delhi.

“I had problems sighting the ball under the lights. We couldn’t practice that much under the lights, and it was a challenge for all of us. I suffered a hairline fracture on my shoulder and had to leave the field in the first match against Delhi. But I stayed with the team till the end of the tournament,’’ said former Indian goalkeeper Manjila.

Itty Mathew, the former India goalkeeper who was a member of victorious 1973 Santosh Trophy team

Itty Mathew, the former India goalkeeper who was a member of victorious 1973 Santosh Trophy team
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Constant injuries forced coach Olympian Simon Sundararaj to tinker with the team so much that only five players — Captain Mani, T.P. Jaffar, Hameed, K.P. Williams and Devanand — started in all the matches.

“The team started to settle down after the first match, and we improved as the tournament progressed. Najimudeen and Mani excelled as forwards. We adopted a 4-2-4 system and Sundar sir’s game plan was to attack through the wings and feed strikers with low crosses, and it worked,” said Manjila.

“There were nearly 50,000 people in the stadium, and it looked like 70,000 when they occupied every inch of the ground till the touchline. Often, players had to remove the spectators while taking corners. The atmosphere was electric,’’ said former Indian international goalkeeper Itty Mathew. “The positive energy of the crowd rubbed on the whole team. The noise was deafening when Mani completed his hat-trick in the 80th minute.”

Of the 26 players, 10 have passed away and some are ailing. The Santosh Trophy Football Players Welfare Association will felicitate the players and the coaching staff in Kochi on Sunday as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of Kerala’s maiden Santosh trophy win.

Source website: www.thehindu.com

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