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Kerala’s legendary Santosh Trophy-winning team to celebrate golden jubilee of maiden title on December 10

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Fifty years on, the taste of Kerala’s first Santosh Trophy triumph is still sweet and so are its memories. It was a humongous achievement by the underdog Kerala on a frigid December evening at the Maharaja’s College Stadium and that changed the future of the beautiful game in the state forever..

Captain Mani with his hat-trick in the final against Railways gained immortality and his bunch of talented players became the first real superstars of the state. For the first time in Kerala’s history, the state government declared a public holiday to commemorate the title win by a sports team.

Of the 26 players who were in the team, 10 passed away and some are ailing.

But they will meet once again on Sunday and will play a friendly football match held as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the triumph.

The Santosh Trophy Football Players Welfare Association, which is organising the event, will also felicitate the players and the coaching staff in Kochi.

The 1973 Santosh Trophy was played under floodlights and the entire Kerala team was playing under lights for the first time . The tournament started rather ominously for the host as it lost its first choice goalkeeper Victor Manjila to a fractured shoulder in the opening match against Delhi.

“I had problems sighting the ball under the lights. We couldn’t practice that much under the lights and it was a challenge for all of us. I suffered a hairline fracture on my shoulder and had to leave the field in the first match against Delhi. My shoulder was in a sling and I couldn’t play but I stayed with the team till the end of the tournament,’’ said Manjila.

Constant injuries forced coach Olympian Simon Sundararaj to tinker with the team so much that only five players – Captain Mani,T.P. Jaffar, Hameed, K.P. Williams and Devanand – started in all the matches.

“The team started to settle down after the first match and we improved as the tournament progressed. Najimudeen and Mani excelled as forwards. We adopted a 4-2-4 system and Sundar Sir’s game plan was to attack through the wings and feed strikers with low crosses and it worked,’’ said Manjila, the former Indian goalkeeper.

“There were nearly 50,000 people in the stadium and it looked like 70,000 when they occupied every inch on the ground till the touchline. Often players had to remove the spectators while taking corners. The atmosphere was electric. The positive energy of the crowd rubbed on to the whole team. The noise was deafening when Mani completed his hat-trick in the 80th minute,’’ said former Indian international goalkeeper Itty Mathew.

Kerala’s maiden Santosh Trophy win was very much unforeseen in an era where the game was dominated by Bengal. Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were formidable sides and Kerala was the rank outsider.

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