THANJAVUR: The Kittu Ground near Anna Nagar here where students and kids from the city normally flock to practice wore a deserted a look on Saturday morning. Instead, they were all at the residence of midfielder Kalia Kulothungan, who passed away in the wee hours of Saturday, in a road accident in Thanjavur district.
Kulothungan breathed his last after the two-wheeler that he was riding reportedly collided against an iron fence near Vallam along the Tiruchy-Thuraiyur national highway at 2 am. Police said that his motorbike was hit from behind by an unidentified vehicle. He was returning after attending the inaugural function of an inter-school five-a-side tournament.
The 41-year-old midfielder achieved international renown as a player but his activities as a coach only endeared him more to the people of Thanjavur. A native of Ramakrishnapuram near here, Kulothungan was imparting free football training to students and youths from the locality with an aim of producing more footballers from Thanjavur.
“Kalia was so fond of football that we used to always see him even during school hours playing at the ground,” said MK Sivanandan, president of Thanjavur District Football Association. Football came naturally to a young Kulothungan, skills he inherited from his father Kaliyamoorthy. As a 22-year-old, he was first thrust into the spotlight with FC Kochin.
Stellar performances in the National Football League attracted the attention of the biggest names in the Indian football circuit. Kulothungan is one of the few players to have played for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, winning two successive league titles with the former in 2002 and 2003. He was also one of East Bengal’s key players during their march to ASEAN Cup success in 2003. After his stint with East Bengal, he moved onto Mohammedan SC and Mohun Bagan before returning to Kolkata again in 2012 to play for Bhawanipore FC. He had also captained Tamil Nadu in the Santosh Trophy. Later on in his career, he returned to his home state to play for both Hindustan Eagles and Chennai City FC in the CFA Senior Division.
Kulothungan’s demise cast a pall of gloom over the Indian football fraternity with both past and present footballers paying tributes to him. “Really upsetting to hear about the passing away of Kalia Kulothungan,” India captain Sunil Chhetri tweeted. “He was one of the best ballplayers I’ve played alongside. Let’s never take life for granted.”