Soccer Memories - Local
1. Some of my earliest memories were listening to radio commentaries (in my native Malayalam) of Santosh Trophy, India's inter-state football tournament. A typical sample went something like this: "Basheer has just given a pass forward, yes, *Doctor* Basheer...and there is Sankaran Kutti, but he has lost out to Bhaumik... the ball is with is Prasannan, no Jacob but no, the ball is lost again! It is now into Kerala's half, Shyam Thapa advancing menacingly ... past Jaffar but then, we have under the bar Victor Manjila, the ever dependable Victor Manjila, Kerala's fortress of steel, our international Victor Manjila, he gathers the ball like a flower dropping from the heavens, as simple as that, and now he has kicked it far ahead into the Bengal half, and yes...Kerala is on the attack again, like ocean waves... and now, I hand over the mike to my friend... " It would go on and on ... And every now and then, the commentators would remind us of the golden year of 1973 when Kerala had won the Santosh trophy for the only time (I used to feel bad I was not old enough to remember that historic occasion!).
2. "City gripped by Soccer fever!"
Cochin. Late 1980/early 1981. The newspapers would not stop raving about the *Junior* National Football tournament being held at the Maharaja's College Ground in the heart of the city. This was the first time I saw serious soccer up close.
We were there to watch the inaugural match between Kerala and Gujarat. Just before the match began, a bunch of young fellows in soccer uniform - but all in same colors - entered the ground and proceeded to the centre to generous, general applause. They placed a ball at the center, waved to the crowd smartly and suddenly broke and ran outwards and took positions around the playing area. Then some folks in the crowd guessed: "Out Perukkikal!" ("Ball Pickers!"). This 'event' featured in the next day's papers. For a few matches thereafter, the crowds booed the 'Pickers's' entry - and thereafter, mostly ignored them.
Kerala duly beat Gujarat in the opener, and egged on by very partisan crowds - and huge local media hype - went all the way to the final before crashing to Goa. But even our parochial crowd was very appreciative of a diminutive Railways player - 'Krishna Dey'. He looked much below his 19 years and played with such touch and skill that he totally upstaged local heroes like Peter Wilson and Ricky Brown and even the 'Shooting Star' from Goa, Baptisto Fernandes... Then the leading local daily came up with a piece of news: "Krishna Dey's real name is 'Kishanu Dey'". Many of us were puzzled. What kind of a name was 'Kishanu'? An English paper printed his name as 'Krishnau' causing further confusion. It was a few years down the line when 'Krishanu' stabilized across the country's newspapers, English or otherwise, as the young lad grew into a major national star. And yes, his name has continued to retain its mystery to self ( decades later, I heard the phrase "Danujana Krishanu" - from the context, "Victor over Asuras", in a prayer to Hanuman. But many websites show the word to mean 'Archer' or 'Fire'!).
After that edition of the tournament, I never saw anything about BC Roy Trophy in any newspaper. It probably continued(s) to be held but the spike of interest generated by the Cochin 1981 was a one-off thing.
3. Come 1982-83 and Santosh trophy came to Trichur. The excitement was unprecedented. Somebody came up with the idea of having a mascot for the tournament and some other body proposed an elephant with a soccer ball nesling in its coiled trunk - this utterly prosaic design was printed and painted all over the place - even cakes and pastries with this design on the icing sold like ... well, hot cakes!
Some Seniors fron our school who had just entered the college came up with this idea: "We will grab seats near the (Radio) commentary box in the stadium and during matches, we will yell out our names and make ourselves heard to folks at home!". Although I did tune into most matches, I never heard any of their names - the roar of the crowd was overpowering.
Those roars were to be almost the last gasps of an era which would soon be history. The 'Nehru Trophy' of 1985 (which I wrote about in the last post here) was the ultimate show of the real Kerala Soccer Mania. TV and the 1986 world cup made us realize what the 'beautiful game' really was about; and nobody really bothered anymore about its local manifestations (nowadays, the new generation of Kerala soccer lovers fight proxy wars between Brazil and Argentina during World Cups). Kerala did win the Santosh Trophy a few times in the 1990's but the average Mallu sports lover wasn't terribly excited.
The other day, I saw a report on Punjab winning the Santosh trophy 2008 in a National daily - the space the paper devoted to the occasion could have been covered by 4 revenue stamps. And now, the coach of the National team, which has steadily 'moved' in world rankings from around 100 a few years ago to around 155 ("Well, it is not all such a bad slip, so many new countries have come out of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia so..." is *an* explanation) is said to have demanded Santosh Trophy to be ... scrapped!
And sadly, Krishanu Dey, on whom our leading sports scribes lavished phrases such as "artful dodger" and "an asset to the country", passed away in 2003.