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How Kerala staged a dominating resurgence in Indian football

Teams from Kerala are having a dominating run in Indian football recently, we try to trace each of these teams' journey to resounding success.

Gokulam Kerala FC with the I-League trophy

Gokulam Kerala FC with the I-League trophy


Triyasha Chatterjee

Updated: 2022-05-27T19:22:28+05:30

Kerala has always showcased itself as a powerhouse of talent with an immense passion for football. Home to the legendary figures, I.M Vijayan, C V Pappachan, and Jo Paul Ancheri, the state has gone through a revival in Indian football across formats.

Kerala had their zenith moments in between the 80s and 90s when not only did they hold a majority in the National team but bestrode the Indian football as well. Players like Vijayan, Pappachan, Ancheri and Sharif Ali, used to feature regularly for the Blue Tigers while the youngsters made seven consecutive Santosh Trophy appearances winning two as well. Kerala Police and FC Kochin found their hands on the prestigious Durand Cup, with the latter beating Kolkata Giants Mohun Bagan in the process by Vijayan's goal.

However, even after reaching its peak moment, Kerala football had a sudden drop with teams like FC Kochin, and Viva Kerala being dissolved while departmental teams like Kerala Police receding their valour. With no clubs or units to nurture the players, their representation in the national team decreased with time as Kerala football went to find its way into nihility.

Football is 'God's own country' found its way into the light again in 2014, in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL), when Kerala Blasters reached the finals of the tournament but were narrowly beaten by North East United FC on the final day. Two years later in 2016, their fate iterated as ATK beat them in the finals, 4-3 on penalties.

Kerala football caught more eyes when Gokulam Kerala FC toppled the gigantic sides of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Minerva in their debut year of the I-League. The following year, they defeated Mohun Bagan to clinch their maiden trophy, the Durand Cup. The same year saw Kerala getting over their drought as they found their hands on the sixth Santosh Trophy title defeating West Bengal.

Sahal Abdul Samad added to the glory as the player became AIFF's Emerging Player of The Year for 2018 for his performances as he took Indian Football by storm. Players like Sahal, and Ashique Kuruniyan kept on delivering in the Indian colours, as well.

Gokulam Kerala continued with their glory after winning two back to back I-Leagues in 2020-21 and 2021-22, becoming the first club in 15 years to do so. Kerala retained their Santosh Trophy glory. Local lad Jesin TK took the headlines by storm as the team gave an all-around dominating performance.

The pride of Kerala were upped by a notch as Gokulam Kerala FC made their maiden AFC Cup appearance, and claimed a huge 4-2 victory over Indian Super League giants ATK Mohun Bagan. Despite losing their later affairs against Bashundhara Kings and Maziya SR, local lads Emil Benny, Rishad PP and Jithin MS caught the eyes with their performances.

Kerala also found their glory in women's football as well. Gokulam Kerala FC Women's outfit was crowned the Champions of the AIFF-organised Indian Women's League for the second consecutive time after dominating the tournament this season. The team obtained their Asian glory as they held the third position in the AFC Women's Club Championship in 2021.

Kerala's passion for football went global when FIFA+ announced an original documentary named 'Maitanam' on football in Kerala. The 40-minute documentary showcases six real-life stories from the region where football is a way of life.

Starting from Thiruvananthapuram, and ending at Thrissur, the documentary goes about meeting priests that play barefoot, a women's team that has been making havoc in competitions, little girls training under adverse situations and how the passion and love for the game get the Keralites going. In conclusion, the documentary brings out the true essence of the passionate Kerala football.

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