Chennai: Kerala would be eternally grateful to one man from Tamil Nadu, their opponents in the Santosh Trophy on Sunday, for winning the state’s maiden national football championship. Thanjavur’s Simon Sundararaj was the coach of the Kerala team that defeated Railways 3-2 to claim the Santosh Trophy in 1973. Sundararaj, who represented India at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was working with Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd (Fact) at Ernakulam then. The 75-year-old reminisced about his triumph with the Kerala team that secured his place in the football-crazy state’s annals.
“Infighting was rampant in the Kerala association then. The Santosh Trophy in 1973 had been allocated to Ernakulam but many wondered whether the state would be able to field a team on their home turf. Finally, Kerala high court chief justice Govindan Nair, also the president of the state’s sport council, stepped in. He appointed me as coach and ensured that we entered the tournament after a camp,” he said.
“I conducted open trials to send out a message that the selection would be fair. The team played well throughout the tournament. We prevailed over Railways in a close final in front of a huge crowd. I cherish the memory of being at the helm when the state clinched its first title. Kerala would subsequently win the crown four times but people remember the first title forever,” Sundararaj said.
In addition to the coach, a Tamil Nadu player also contributed to the success of Kerala. “Kaliaperumal, father of former Mohammedan Sporting player Kulothungan, was a key member of the team. He was also from Thanjavur. I brought Kaliaperumal to Fact. He was a fantastic player,” Sundararaj said. Kaliaperumal, who was known for his superb dribbling, is no more.
Sundararaj said there wasn’t much recognition for him in his home state, Tamil Nadu. “I would say it’s a curse of sports. But I’m not complaining because every member of the victorious Kerala team is in touch with me even today. All of them have retired from good jobs and they don’t forget to seek my blessings for every important occasion in their families,” he said....