KOCHI: As Xavier Pious dribbled and passed the ball to fellow teammates, those in the stands and the ones standing outside the play area at Maharaja’s College ground were transported back to the good old days. Back in the 70s, the warhorses of Kerala football – as the Premier Tyres team was known – had other teams trembling with fear. And during their recent reunion at the ground, the former teammates showed they still had it in them.
“Stadiums would get packed before the matches and the spectators stayed glued to their seats until the final whistle,” said T A Jaffar, one of the top players in the team. Jaffar sought to know why, prompting a friend, also a fan, to say, “That’s because one never knew when you guys would score. At times, Premier Tyres scored all goals within five minutes of the start. Sometimes, they would get out of a loss by scoring at the end.”
Jaffar credited the team’s formation to T A Abdul Rehman who played for India in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. “Though we never won under him, his disciplined approach forged a very strong team that went on to claim several impressive wins later,” he said. A frail-looking Dinakaran Premappa got a faraway look in his eyes when he talked about how Premier Tyres got back at the Tata team after the draw. “In our very next match with them, we trounced them,” said the Premier Tyres forward. Dinakaran was among the players who joined the team at the very start in 1971. “I played for Premier Tyres for seven years, before going to Mohammedan Sporting,” he said.
Initially, Olympian Rehman had recruited all seniors to the team. Later, junior players were inducted. Chathunni was first recruit. “However, he left after a month or so,” said C D Francis, another important team member who is known for scoring a double hattrick in a single match.
“Later, Ramakrishnan and Vijayan from Alind Kundara were recruited,” Jaffar chimed in. He said he and K P William, who played for FACT, were the next inductees. “The company had been very professional when it came to managing the team,” said Jaffar. Francis said the way the firm looked after the team was almost similar to how owners of Indian Super League clubs take care of theirs today.
“Everyone knows our team provided a lion’s share of players for the 1973 Santhosh trophy-winning Kerala team. What many don’t know is that the team that won the junior nationals too had 10 Premier Tyres players,” Jaffar said. He said the team won three trophies in 1974 – Chakola Cup, G V Raja and the Golden Jubilee Trophy. “We are not just teammates but a family. We ensure everyone comes together as much as possible,” said the player whose winning style still has many fans.
Williams said the reason for the Premier Tyres success was the understanding between teammates. Dinakaran agreed, saying, “We worked as one to win. Once on the field, every single one of us had the same aim – to win. So we put everything we had into the match and never bothered about personal achievements.” The era of Premier Tyres started to wane in 1979 when four of its debut players, the mainstay, joined other teams. “Slowly, the graph spiralled and everything ended after Apollo Tyres bought Premier Tyres,” said Jaffar. By 1984, all sporting activities of Premier Tyres came to a stop.