THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Satheevan Balan, who was at the helm of the Santosh Trophy-winning team, had several scares before the championship started. There were no big names in the squad, the boys were relatively inexperienced and then there was this added pressure to win the coveted silverware that has been eluding the team for the last 13 seasons. But none of these were as frightening as this one: the dearth of quality training venues.
The team had its initial days of training camp at SAI-LNCPE, Kariavattom, but Balan said the players were regularly picking up injuries due to the poor quality of the turf and he was forced to relocate the camp to Kozhikode.“Training grounds were a problem. Because of injury threat to players, I shifted the camp to Kozhikode. There I had contacts in the Calicut University and Devagiri College and we got permission to train there,” Balan said during the felicitation of the team by the district wing of the Kerala Union of Working Journalist here on Friday.
Balan added the facilities offered at Kozhikode, be it food or the quality of the training turf, were excellent and that helped the team to stay focused.Thiruvananthapuram District Football Association president V Sivankutty toed the same line and said there were three stadiums in Thiruvananthapuram where football was played in the past, but all three lacked basic amenities to hold a tournament.
“We had planned to hold the Santosh Trophy here at Chandrasekharan Nair last year. But on inspection, it was found that the stadium had no dressing room and our plan was shelved,” Sivankutty said.Kerala Football Association president KMI Mather said it had started a project with a private sponsor to upgrade the turfs provided the grounds were made available. “But nothing happened out of that as the agreement was that we should make grounds available to them to be upgraded,” he added.
Former Santosh Trophy skipper, coach and current selector V P Shaji said the poor condition of the grounds is a big let down. “When we talk about Kerala football, we put too much emphasis on the talent and sweep aside the lack of facilities. For me, talent will come automatically if we provide proper facilities. The first requirement is proper training grounds. The one at SAI-LNCPE was uneven and others were slightly better off. This need to change. The poor playing conditions are affecting the standard of the game also. Now, world-over players resort to one-touch game, no extra slice of second is made available for the players while taking passes. But because of the substandard turf, our players need three and four touches to control the ball, and then they play constantly with the fear of injuries,” he said.
Dream come true
Balan said he started dreaming of win only after reaching the semifinal. In the semis, while facing Mizoram, the players could outshine the favourites because of proper execution of game plan, he added. He also advised players not to sign contracts with big clubs as they won’t be getting enough chances to play. Captain Rahul V Raj said overwhelming presence of youngsters in the side helped the coach to plan his tactics accordingly. “Most of the players were young and the coach was able to rally the team around his tactics. The team also worked in tandem and made the win happen,” he said. Sports Minister A C Moideen presented the players and support staffs with mementos.