As long as I live, I’ll have a ball by my feet: I M Vijayan
Former Indian football team captain, I. M. Vijayan, turned 50 on Thursday. On his birthday, Vijayan talked about his past, present and future in an exclusive interview with Mathrubhumi News at the Thrissur corporation stadium, the very ground where he learned his trade.
The humble legend rolled back the years in his typical Thrissur style and opened up about friendships formed during his celebrated career and recollected some special moments he shared with some of the biggest names in Indian football.
Footballers, typically, after the age of 40 tend to turn to a managerial position off the field. 16 years after his retirement from international football, I. M. Vijayan still manages to shine as a player. When asked on what his secret, he said, “Football is my bread and butter, it’s the reason I am where I am today. It’s my training with the Kerala Police team from a young age (Vijayan was just over 17 when he joined the Kerala Police team) that helped me stay fit. We had a rather strict schedule. Sleeping by 10 pm and back on the field, playing by 6 am. I still continue that. No matter how late I sleep, I manage to get up and train early. This routine basically helps me play even after all these years.”
When asked about his memories about the Thrissur corporation stadium and relationship with the Police team, Vijayan recollected his former teammates – V. P. Sathyan, C. V. Pappachan and U. Sharaf Ali. He went on to mention what he thinks was the most special factor of the team back then, their unity. The players shared beds and trained together for years, this helped build a deeper sense of unity amongst the team.
“It’s rare to see that kind of bond these days. It was truly special and I don’t think you would find it anywhere else in India. The kind of love and unity that we had in the team and with players of other sports in the academy,” said Vijayan.
Vijayan also spoke about his days at FC Kochin, the only Kerala club to have lifted the Durant Cup (in 1997), and how it was a great accomplishment. “The biggest mistake at that time was from Paul sir. Vijay Mallya had once offered to buy the club. Paul sir could not run it properly because of financial troubles. But he didn’t sell it. Had he agreed, the team would’ve still continued as an asset to Kerala football,” Vijayan added. Vijayan had contributed from his own pocket and even pledged his wife’s gold ornaments in an attempt to save the club from financial crunch.
The Black Pearl (Karutha Muthu) of Kerala also went on to talk about legendary players he looked up to. One such player was the great T. Abdul Rahman. The Kozhikode native was also known as “Olympian Rahman”. He was a key defender of the Indian national team that reached the 1956 Melbourne Olympics semi-finals.
Vijayan went on to narrate an anecdote he was told by the physiologist at Mohun Bagan at the time, about the late Olympian. “It was a match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, they had a good chance and Chuni Goswami (original name Subimal Goswami) blew it. At the half-time interval everyone was disappointed at Goswami, who was a fierce and respected player then, for the slip-up. He assured them it’ll be fine in the next half. When the second half was to begin, the Mohun Bagan team was short of a player. They realised it was their stopper back (now center-back), the great Olympian Rahman. He was sitting on the sideline with his boots off. When they asked Rahman why he wasn’t on the pitch, he said he’d play only if they took Swami off the pitch.”
Vijayan admired the guts displayed by the late defender and felt that players these days needed to know more about legends like him to get a stronger drive to play. “They knew how crucial Rahman was for their defensive line and his word was final. So they took Goswami off the pitch and brought on another player. He went onto score in the final minutes and they won the game.” He also mentions the kind of respect Rahman’s family still receives amongst Mohun Bagan fans and the passion that people of Kolkata have towards football.
Vijayan spoke about a lesser known story from his days at Mohun Bagan. The former Indian captain said that he was once offered a brand new bike if he were to score 3 goals at their next derby match against East Bengal. He went on to score the 2 goals in their 2-1 win against their rivals and he was still rewarded with a scooter. He also talked about the close relationship he shared with former teammate, V.P. Sathyan.
“I don’t think any other player has captained the Indian team as many times as he did, back then. I was truly privileged to have been able to play alongside him for so many years, at the police team and national team,” said Vijayan.
The Mathrubhumi News team later visited a local tea stall owned by a friend of Vijayan near the stadium that has been famous for its appearances in several Malayalam movies.
When asked whether joining the movie industry and acting was always in the plan, he said, “Yes, definitely. I never knew anything about acting, my only experience was going up on stage to present or receive awards. Jayaraj sir (Malayalam film director) then told me he wanted me to star in his movie. I thought he was joking. He then told me something I will never forget. He said that the world loved my feet, but he was more interested in my face. I didn’t understand why a national award winning director would want someone like me in his movie, but I’m glad I did that movie and it went on to win 3 national awards. It meant a lot to me.”
Vijayan mentions how we was blessed to have had the opportunity to work with some of the best directors and actors. He also mentions the time he got to share the screen with one of Malayalam film industry’s finest actors, Mammooka (Mammooty). They worked together in the movie, The Great Father, and he claims it was a truly big moment for him.
When asked whether he had plans on moving into the coaching field, Vijayan said that he has got his B-licence and coached a small team in Kolkata, Southern Samity, for an initial experience. I. M. Vijayan was appointed as the national observer of football by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India in March, 2017.
Vijayan went on to talk about how he is ever grateful to his dear mother for her unconditional love and support. Vijayan said he wasn’t exactly very good with academics. His heart was always in the game and his mother thoroughly supported it. She never forced him to study and gave him the time to train and play. He is grateful for how she raised him and the family, through all the struggles and hardships.
He then cut a cake with the Mathrubhumi News team and celebrated his 50th birthday. He expressed his gratitude to the fans for their undying love and support.
Since his retirement from football, the three-time Indian player of the year has set up his own football academy in his home town, to train the future generations of footballers. He has resumed playing for Kerala Police after a short break. Given the experiences and talent he possesses, there is no doubt that Vijayan is going to be an influential figure in shaping the football scenario in not just Kerala, but in India.
“As long as I live, I’ll have a ball by my feet,” said I M Vijayan.