He may have quit professional football a decade and a half ago, but I.M. Vijayan’s romance with the beautiful game continues.
At the age of 50, he still makes occasional appearances for Kerala Police and plays in the hugely popular seven-a-side tournament. These days the only way to associate himself with the game is kicking the ball around with his son at home in Thrissur.
“These are indeed tough times for all of us,” Vijayan told The Hindu over phone. “It is even more frightening than the floods, which Kerala experienced for the last two years.”
The former Indian captain had seen the misery from close quarters. He is a Circle Inspector with Kerala Police, and was on duty in the flood-hit areas.
“I had also duty during the elections,” he said. “My colleagues in the police department are doing a great job. I know that I could also be asked to report for duty and would be glad to do my bit.”
Even as the coronavirus was spreading its wings across the country came the news last week that P.K. Banerjee, one of Indian football’s all-time greats, was no more. “I consider myself lucky that I could train under him,” Vijayan said. “He had coached me at Mohun Bagan and at the national camp. ”
He said he had grown up hearing about the legendary striker. “I remember former players like Syed Nayeemuddin speak in awe of P.K.,” he said. “Today’s generation might find it difficult to believe that he scored a goal against France at the Olympic Games and that we had drawn that match 1-1.”
That was in 1960 in Rome. And that was a time when India used to win medals, including gold, at the Asian Games.
End of a chapter
“With his demise, another golden chapter of Indian football has come to an end,” said Vijayan, who was one of India’s most-gifted forwards ever. “As a footballer it is indeed disappointing to find that the standard of the sport has come down hugely in India.”
He said it was unfortunate that new superstars are no longer emerging. “Apart from Sunil Chhetri, I wonder how many names are familiar for most of India today,” he said.
“It is a pity that we don’t find incredibly talented players like the late Krishanu Dey (who was known as the Indian Maradona). It was a privilege playing along with, and against, him.”