Got to know from Whatsapp group of our removal: Kerala Police coach on their exit from Kerala Premier League
Kerala Football Association abruptly eliminated Kerala Police from their playoff spot without even formally notifying them.
Kerala United FC were crowned champions of the Kerala Premier League (KPL) 2022-23 campaign after they defeated Gokulam Kerala FC 1-0 in the final on 19th March. However, if the semi-finals of the tournament were conducted fairly and with a bit of transparency, the Kerala Police team might have had a shot at the title themselves.
But, it wasn't meant to be for them.
The Kerala Football Association does not treat Kerala Police with due respect, according to head coach Siddik Kalliasseri, despite the fact that they are likely the only team in the state league to field an all-Keralite roster. Being put in a difficult group with the reserves of Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters FC didn't stop Siddik's team from cruising in the Kerala Premier League.
Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Police were the two teams in Group B and qualified for the super six round as the top two teams from group stage, and the Police team qualified from Super six round as the second placed team to semi-finals. Unfortunately, Kerala Police had to find out from a Whatsapp group that their semi-final spot was taken away from them.
"That hurts a lot since all of our efforts were wasted. We ought to be treated with more respect because the Kerala FA didn't even formally let us know that they couldn't change the dates for us. From a whatsapp group for players, we learned that our spot had been handed to Kovalam FC. It was a dream and hope to play in the semi-finals," coach Kalliasseri told The Bridge.
Problems started when the team asked for an adjustment in the dates of semi-finals due to the now concluded Mullik Cup (All-India Police Championship), where the Police side was knocked out by eventual 2023 champions Assam Rifles.
Initially during the Super Six round of the KPL, the Kerala Football Association "helped" by making the Police team play five games in 10 days to free up their schedule to participate in the Police Meet. However, Siddik K feels that the KFA did not expect them to qualify for the semis.
"We only required a one-week break, and we were even prepared to fly out of Kashmir if we were eliminated from the Mullik Cup. We played almost four games during the league's beginning, and some teams played their first match that day. We have not received any emails from Kerala FA, who claim to have sent us one requesting for a response by 5 PM on March 11th," reveals Siddik.
In reality, a week's postponement for a single team might seem like a tall order for the association, but the thing that perhaps hurts the Kerala Police the most is the fact that they weren't officially let known about their impending removal from the state league.
Siddik believes that if there was a meeting before awarding Kovalam FC their semi-final place, then a member of Kerala Police should have been consulted in such an important decision making process.
"If there was a meeting to decide this, they should have included a representative from our team because it affects our future also. We were hoping that they will wait for us because we are the only team with all Kerala players in the semi-finals. We didn't even get enough time to react or do something against the decision to eliminate us. All of this happened very quickly," the coach said.
The Bridge tried to get in touch with the Kerala FA's secretary Mr. Anil Kumar to get an insight from the association's perspective, but was unable to reach him.
This wasn't the first the KFA was needed to be accommodating of the needs of the state's teams and players. The KPL 2022–23 season was completely postponed for over a month due to some players' visa processing delays.
"A reasoning the KFA could have given is that the other clubs would not be ready to bear the financial loses if the semi-finals were postponed. By that logic, one can only wonder how the association postponed the league for over a month, where the Police team only needed a week's time.
The lack of professionalism shown by the association has always been a talking point amongst the teams, and how it fails to communicate with the teams about anything in general, including rescheduling and more," an unnamed official from a club said.
During the KPL, the Police players had an official obligation on the same day as a match. The team had requested the KFA to shift the game to the next morning since they were travelling from Trivandrum to Kozhikode, an 8-9 hour train journey. However, the association didn't budge.
"We sent a written request to the association to modify one game because it was a duty we could not avoid, but all they did was ask us to withdraw. We had to return to the place, change our kit, and then directly proceed to the game without any rest. Due to the Kerala Football Federation's lack of support, we were also forced to withdraw from a police tournament in Koorg," Siddik said.
The Kerala Police coach thinks that the Kerala FA exhibits partial transparency and favoritism. "There is transparency, but it only applies to a select few teams, so if I say there isn't any, that would be a lie. They can do favours for the teams if they benefit from it, but kindly refrain from doing so at the expense of destroying another team. We decided to speak up because we knew no one else will speak for us. This partiality is majorly towards services teams."
Kerala police could have won a ticket to the finals and even the coveted trophy as they were dominant, beating almost all the opponents including their semi-final opponents Gokulam Kerala in the Super Six. Just like any other day in Indian Football, lack of accountability and transparency impacted a promising team.