Dubai: The name of Kerala Police may not invoke much awe in the context of Indian club football today, but they were an unbeatable lot back in the early to mid Nineties. While winning back-to-back Federation Cups in 1990-’91, the symbol of supremacy in club football, they produced an assembly line of footballers who sparked a fresh football revolution in the game in the state.
A trio among them - Sharaf Ali, K.T. Chacko and Babu Raj - retired from their Kerala Police jobs on Saturday to signal what in the words of I.M.Vijayan, their junior and illustrious colleague, is the “end of an era.”
“Yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. It was like my extended family. In the department, Sharaf Ali acts as the football team manager whereas I function as the Technical Director. It’s only football which we discuss every time. That’s our life. Life moves on. We don’t know who will come next but we’ll miss them dearly,” an emotional Vijayan told the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.
Sharaf Ali, a nippy wing back who made his international debut against Korea Republic in Nehru Cup at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in 1986, had joined the state police force in 1985, while Chacko was the goalkeeper.
Although we joined different clubs across the country later, we used to stay in touch always. Even nowadays, we discuss those days over a cup of tea - golden days indeed
“It’s a mixed bag of feelings for me today. When I joined the force in 1985 I didn’t foresee this day. We were like a family. We ate and slept and trained together. That was the success mantra behind the team’s success,” Ali said.
Ali and others were followed by C.V. Pappachan, a prolific international striker and V.P.Sathyan, the rock in the police team’s defence who captained the Indian team for nearly five years. Sathayn’s story, however, had a tragic twist as he committed suicide at the age of 41 in 2006 - on whom a biopic was made years later.
“Back then, there wasn’t any concept of professional football unlike now. We had to do our daily chores of duty for the Police force and then continue our training but it was fun, it was like shrugging off the stress at the end of day’s job,” the 60-year-old Ali said.
“We were a closely knit unit. Although we joined different clubs across the country later, we used to stay in touch always. Even nowadays, we discuss those days over a cup of tea - golden days indeed,” Vijayan recalled.
After these stalwarts established Kerala as a football powerhouse in the 90s, the mantle has been passed on to the likes of Anas Edathodika, Ashique Kuruniyan, Abdul Sahal, and many more in the next decades.