For the casual bystander, it was a curious spectacle - a bunch of old men taking on a team of young kids. But for people more acquainted with the beautiful game, it was the past of Kerala football taking on its future.
Members of the Santosh Trophy-winning team of 1973 took on students of the Sacred Heart Academy on the inaugural day of Goal 2013, being organised at the Sacred Heart College in Thevara. The veterans put up a display that belied their age and showed some nice touches but they were outclassed on their day by the kids, who rattled the net a couple of times.
“It was an honour playing against players whom I have heard stories about. One day, I hope I can emulate these great players by winning the Santosh Trophy for my team,” said 12-year-old Kent Joseph, a student of the academy who played in the match.
It may not be too far fetched a wish, if the academy’s track record is anything to go by. Since its inception in 2005, the Sacred Heart Academy has contributed a number of players to various Indian junior teams. And it has now begun making its mark in the senior level as well, with Abhishek N Joshy, who played for India at the U14 and U16 levels, currently the youngest player in Kerala’s Santosh Trophy probables camp.
The academy itself is a far cry from what it was, when it was started in 2005. “Back then, Kerala Football Association conducted sporadic football camps as part of their youth development programme. These camps had no continuity, so we decided to provide regular coaching to these children. We received the backing of Santosh Trophy winner C C Jacob, who played an important role in getting us off the ground,” said Ravindran K, one of the founders of the academy.
Ravindran, an AFC ‘C’ licensed coach, feels that the enthusiasm shown by the students played an important role in the development of the academy. “We started off holding weekly classes. Then the students started calling me up whenever they had a holiday, asking me if they could have training on that day. Now we offer coaching daily,” he said.
The academy, then called the City Football Academy, received a huge boost when the management of the Sacred Heart College, adopted the project. And the results started to show on the field as well. Ernakulam, playing with a number of players from the academy, won the U14 district championship twice. Apart from Abhishek, Akhil Joseph, Rudhin Aldrin and Akshay KS represented India at the U14 level. Last year, Mohammed Hasil was selected to train at the AIFF’s coaching camp, set up with FIFA assistance, in Mumbai.
The academy meanwhile received assistance from a number of figures including former Indian international Xavier Pius and former player Joy TV. And this year, it took a very significant step forward, a signal of things to come. “This year, six players are staying with us and training at our camps. Our long-term ambition is to grow into a full-fledged residential academy and with these six students, we have taken an important step in that direction,” Ravindran said.