The temperature is never over the bar during this part of the year in the Southern state of Kerala. But the football heat has certainly caught up with the Indian football faithful in the coastal state. As if the international friendly between India and Palestine was not enough to attract huge crowds to Kochi on 6th Feb, football fanatics will be spoilt for options as it will overlap with one of the oldest football tournaments in the country- Santosh Trophy.
The 67th edition of the coveted tournament held among state and government institutions in India kicks off with the qualifying rounds starting tomorrow. Santosh trophy – was named after the former president of Indian Football Association, late Maharaja Sir Manmatha Nath Roy Chowdhary of Santosh. The district Santosh although now lies in Bangladesh after the partition of India. Before the NFL [National Football League] started in 1996, Santosh Trophy was the premier football event, involving biggest stars in the country.
Format And Schedule
The format of this competition has undergone a lot of changes since its inception. The current format will see three or four teams grouped up to form eight clusters, to fight in the qualifying round. The winner from each cluster play a knockout match to leave just four teams, which then are collated with the four seeded teams, who are given direct entry into the quarter final stage. These teams then slug it out for the title. Find the fixtures here.
Defending champions Services, runners up Tamil Nadu, hosts Kerala and Manipur are the seeded teams and their opponents will be decided after the qualifying rounds.
Denson Devadas struck a superb goal three years ago to handle Bengal their 30th Santosh trophy title. The Kerala lad is now donning colours of one of the most successful clubs in Indian football – Mohun Bagan AC. His team mate in the star studded Bengal line up then, Robin Singh is plying his trade for city rivals East Bengal FC in the current season. Numerous such examples could be cited from this esteemed tournament, performance in which led to a number of contracts getting inked. Many players from the current crop of Indian team have donned their state federation’s jersey in Santosh Trophy. This is what this tournament offers on the plate to all the state federations- a flourishing platform for all the young footballers.
Teams which have a rich history in the tournament enjoy extremely exceptional players coming through the ranks and scouted in the tournament itself. Earlier the tournament used to be squeezed at the end of the season, which resulted in a lot of players missing the tournament due to injuries. But in recent years, Santosh trophy has been played out at a more convenient time of the year for the players. Another little known fact about Santosh Trophy is that teams winning it would participate in AFC Champions League when the tournament was in its nascent stage. The State of Mysore represented India in 1969 Asian Champions Cup, after winning Santosh Trophy. Before the advent of Federation Cup and National League, Santosh trophy was considered as the main tournament to determine national champions.
Observations To Make
AIFF, like always, was only able to finalize the stadiums for the tourney after long meetings and inspection. Kochi and Kollam from Kerala were confirmed to host the latter part of the tournament (from the quarterfinals), whereas the cluster matches would kick off at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The intention of reviving football in these areas is commendable but it often rebounds in the form of bad ground condition, which is certainly not acceptable.
Without a doubt in every football game, referees play a more than just vital role. Even the I-league matches in India sometimes fall prey to bad refereeing. Santosh Trophy has always been marred by bad refereeing decisions during the earlier stages. This eventually affects the quality of the tournament as a whole.
Crowd Management and Media Engagement:
We have already seen how one of the oldest football tournaments in the world was over looked in the national capital – Durand Cup. With absolutely no media coverage and publicity, the tournament was kicked off and concluded in obscurity. For Santosh trophy we have atleast seen an official logo and mascot, which is good sign. Kerala Football Association should be applauded for this initiative.
Scouting Young Talent:
Hosts Kerala will start as favourites to clinch the title this time around, but other teams like Services and Tamil Nadu- who don’t have any sort of legacy in the tournament, will be looking to make an impression. Young players from these states, when signed for big clubs, become idols for others in their hometown and cities. Hence, further testifying the importance of this tournament in growth of football in remote areas to revitalize the football culture.
Blast From The Past
Kerala captain and Winger NP Pradeep scores a scorcher in the 2009 Santosh trophy.