The natives of Kerala, the Malayalee people, have been described as lithe and springy and have an innate ability to excel in events such as jumps and sprints. Additionally, the advancements and triumphs in sports competitions, both nationally and internationally, have been largely credited to traditional arts such as Kalaripayattu and circus acrobatics.
Prior to 1956, the state of Kerala was comprised of three separate units, namely the princely state of Travancore, Cochin and the Malabar which was presided over by the British, while belonging to the erstwhile Madras State.
Almost all the districts in Kerala have their own unique cultural heritage and Thrissur is known as the cultural capital of Kerala. In sports as well, Thrissur has made inroads and football is the most popular sport there (Not forgetting the tiny village of Marottichal, 20 kms away from Trichur town where 90% of the population from the age of 8 to 80 play chess with equal fervour).
The first and the oldest football club in Kerala (and probably the first in South India) was established in Thrissur on 20th February 1899 was R.B. Ferguson Club with its premises set up near St. Antony’s Church in Ollur. Later, this club was renamed as Young Men’s Football Club and played a huge role in promoting football in the princely state of Cochin.
The first football tournament in central Kerala took place in 1925 and was organised by the Cochin Athletic Association for a 100 Tola Silver Cup which was donated by Rama Varma XV, the abdicated Highness of Kochi.
The Trichur Palace ground was the centre of attraction for all football activities and had the notable distinction of ushering in many famous footballers into the limelight like Father N. I. Ignatius, his brother Kurian, Korapath Govinda Menon, Ramakrishnan (aka ADU), P. Velayudhan (aka VADU), A. Porinchu (aka ANDI KOOLAN), Municipal Chairman Dharman, T.A. Balan, Trichur Raghavan, Prof. T.J. George, his brothers T.J. Thomas and T.J. Joshna.
In the later years, the notable players were Olympian Chandrashekharan (star defender of the Indian football team at Rome Olympics), P.R. Antony, Ramakrishnan, Chathunni, I.M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, C.R. Balakrishnan, N.J. Jose, C.V. Pappachan, Rino Anto, K. F. Benny etc, to name a few.
Over this period, Indian football also witnessed talented Kerala custodians between the posts beginning with Olympian goalkeeper Shankar Subramanian Narayan who participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. Babu (as S. S. Narayan goes by) was from Ottapalam, but made his bones in Bombay; At a very young age, he turned up for Matunga Students and the Indian Gymkhana Football Club before going on to represent the famed Caltex Football Team and Tata Sports Club.
Among these lumineers, in the 70s, there was a goalkeeper who was known for his acrobatic skills under the bar and represented India at youth level in the 14th Asian Youth Championships held in Bangkok in 1972. He was capped for India at senior level in the 6th President’s Cup International Football Tournament held in Seoul in 1976. The following year, he played in the 1977 edition of the President’s Cup, the 10th King’s Cup at Bangkok and was part of the African soccer tour with the Indian national team.
Born into a business family of Manjilas in Trichur, Victor started playing football after joining college which is quite late by traditional standards. Jose Paramban, a sports crazy football veteran from Trichur, spotted the goalkeeper in him and suggested he take up goalkeeping – Manjila used to play as a striker.
After meeting the legendary coach of Calicut University, C.P.M. Usman Koya (who Victor considers his mentor), his game started to develop. True to his name “Victor,” he managed to make winning a habit.
Representing Calicut University, Victor won the All India Inter University Football Championship title in 1971. A couple of years later, he won the Santosh Trophy for Kerala (1973). He was adjudged the best goalkeeper in the first Federation Cup Football Tournament held in the year 1977.
Manjila was renowned for his acrobatic dives and plucking of the ball from the feet of strikers like Bir Bahadur, Shyam Thapa, Maghan Singh, Subhash Bhowmick, Mohammed Habib, Akbar, Ulaganathan and Shabbir Ali among others.
He was also an ideal team man. Famous Indian football coach G.M.H. Basha fielded Indian international goalkeeper Sethumadhavan and Victor in the same squad at Premier Tyres for over a decade without a rift. The duo also took turns representing Kerala between the posts during the 70s. Known as the Glamour Team of Kerala, Premier Tyres was the only club Victor represented professionally as a player.
After C.P.M. Usman Koya advised Manjila to take up coaching, Victor joined N.I.S. to become a professional football coach. Subsequently, he acquired his AFC C Licence.
He joined Calicut University again in 1982 – this time as a coach. The very next year, he won the All India Inter University Football Championship with the university football team and would repeat the feat in 1991 and 1994. Victor spent 27 years as a coach at Calicut University and trained outstanding footballers such as C.V. Pappachan, U. Sharaf Ali, Jo Paul Ancheri, Hakkim, Mathew Varghese, C.M. Ranjith and K.F. Benny.
After a decorated football coaching career at the University of Calicut, he took over the reins of Akbar Travels Football Team to train their team for Harwood League aka the Bombay League.
Considering his stature, the management of Akbar Travels brought the entire team to Victor’s hometown – Thrissur and set up a coaching camp at Sree Kerala Varma College football ground. His ability to harness the most from limited resources transformed them and in his second year with the club, Akbar Travels finished third in the Harwood League.
After finishing his coaching assignment with Akbar Travels, Victor’s most recent coaching role was at the grassroot level at various centres of the Peevees Group of Schools in Saudi Arabia.
In 2019, Victor’s alma mater, the century-old St.Thomas College presented the Sathyaprayan Sapthaadaram award to him in recognition of his efforts. Victor has also served as a member of Kerala Sports Council, Associate Vice President of the Kerala Olympic Association and more recently as senate member of the University of Calicut.
By K.G. Raghunandanan
This article was originally published as part of the eleventh edition of Kalpanthu’s newsletter Vuvuzela. The newsletter costs just $7 or 550 rupees a year and empowers us to keep our YouTube channel for Indian football documentaries free for all. To subscribe/check out our content, visit https://theawayend.co/kalpanthu/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raghunandanan’s passion for sports history can be traced back to his college days when he brought out a sports magazine in 1976 depicting the wonderful sports history of century old Malabar Christian College, Calicut. He served as editor for several sports souvenirs including VI Jawaharlal Nehru Invitation Football Tournament in 1987 and Silver Jubilee Celebration Souvenir of Kozhikode District Sports Council in 1983.
K.G. is the first Calicut-born qualified national official from Amateur Athletic Federation of India in 1981, a sport he took competitively at the youth level. He is the present secretary of The Feasto, Calicut, a sports organization that regularly contributed players, officials, coaches and organizers to the game of basketball at state and national level.
By profession, he was formerly a manager at South Malabar Gramin Bank and is now a book publisher.