Into the 40th year of their famous Santosh Trophy victory in 1973, the pioneering bunch of Kerala footballers led by T K S Mani still nurse a regret. That neither the state government nor the Kerala Football Association (KFA) has suitably honoured them since.
And as The New Indian Express came forth and provided 21 of the original squad of 26 players under Olympian Simon Sunderraj the space to be themselves, there was a rush of emotions, leaving the now senior citizens yearning for more.
The initiative, as part of GOAL 2013, could well be a precursor to many such felicitations to come for footballers who have so far given the football-crazy state five national championships.
Express, with the support of Geojit BNP Paribas, presented each of the players and the support staff with `5,000, apart from mementos.
Lauding the effort, former international T A Jaffar, the vice-captain of the 1973 team, said: “The New Indian Express is doing a great thing by organising an inter-collegiate football tournament. Also, the get-together for the 1973 team has given us unforgettable joy. I hope other institutions would also come forward with such attempts.”
The players themselves feel that recognition is long overdue.
“The KFA gave us Rs 1000 then and since then the authorities have forgotten us,” said former international C C Jacob.
Meanwhile, Geojit BNP Paribas managing director C J George said that a sense of injustice to such a deserving group of footballers had prompted his company to do its bit.
“I think none of the team members of 1973 were recognised properly, nor have they received any financial benefit. When The New Indian Express came up with the idea to honour these old war horses, I immediately agreed to support the event because I had the feeling that everyone, including the government, had done injustice to the team. The government should intervene to grant pension for these players. This could encourage youngsters to take up a career in football,” George said.
The New Indian Express Resident Editor-Kerala Vinod Mathew stressed that bringing the celebrated group of Kerala’s first-ever Santosh Trophy winning squad into the limelight again would go a long way in returning the pride and passion to the game.
“The standard of football has gone down in the state once deemed as the game’s nursery. It is high time a concerted effort was made to revive the glory of football. We believe, the function to honour the 1973 Santosh Trophy players is just the start of many such initiatives to come at a time when another edition of the national championship is scheduled to be held in Kochi,” Vinod said.