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Kerala: The re-emergence of football in God's own country

For long, Kerala, along with West Bengal was one of few states in India where football was the number one sport.

File photo of Kerala state football team celebrating the 2022 Santosh Trophy triumph; Credit: Twitter/@keralafa
By Sreejith C R | Oct 27, 2022 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

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Kerala, God’s own country is a place where football is probably loved more than cricket, a phenomenon rarely seen in India. However negligence and poor governance by the state association and sports ministry almost killed the game in the state. But thanks to sevens football, which kept the global sport alive in the land of coconut. And then, since the emergence of Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, the resurgence of the beautiful game can be seen in Kerala. Kerala Blasters FC have brought back the football fans. The game is now enjoying unprecedented popularity and the people of the state have been treated to some thrilling eleven’s football matches after several years. 

Lack of tournaments and clubs led to decline of Kerala football

For long, Kerala, along with West Bengal was one of few states in India where football was the number one sport. Nagjee tournament and Chakola Gold Trophy were some of the many tournaments which attracted large crowds. Clubs like Premium Tyres, Travancore Titanium, Kerala Police and State Bank of Travancore enthralled a generation of football fans in the state. However, the decline of these teams and lack of tournaments saw the state falling behind Bengal, Punjab and North East in terms of producing quality players. There was a time in the 1990’s when as many as five Keralites were part of India’s playing eleven and led the Blue Tigers to famous victories. IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, CV Pappachan, VP Sathyan, Sharaf Ali and KT Chacko played together at once for the Indian national team. NP Pradeep was the last of the list, who was a regular in the national team and played a key role leading India to SAFF Cup and Nehru Cup triumphs.

Number of Keralites in the national team took a huge dip

Since the retirement of Pradeep, there was a slump in the number of players getting selected for the national team on a regular basis. The likes of Rino Anto, CK Vineeth among others occasionally got into the national setup and earned couple of caps but failed to seal their place in the team. However, since the emergence of ISL in 2014, there has been a whopping increase in the number of kids taking up the sport. Rahul KP was the lone Keralite to be part of the national team that participated in the FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted by India, while Sahal Abdul Samad, who won the 2018-19 ISL Emerging Player award, is the new torch bearer of Kerala football. Meanwhile, Malappuram-born winger Ashique Kuruniyan has been a consistent performer for the Blue Tigers. The 25-year-old already has 24 international caps to his name. 

Resurgence of Kerala football

The last couple of years have seen the return of Kerala football’s golden period. Gokulam Kerala FC won back-to-back I-League titles, Kerala Blasters FC managed to reach the final of the 2021-22 ISL and the Kerala state football team beat arch rivals Bengal in the final to lift the 2022 Santosh Trophy title in front of 30,000 home fans in Manjeri, Malappuram. It was Kerala’s second Santosh Trophy triumph in five years. Gokulam Kerala has risen to be one of the best examples of club success banking on local fan support. Backed by native owners, the Malabarians have won three titles- Durand Cup and two I-League titles, since their inception in 2017.



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