Santosh Trophy
Shafeel PP: The man who joins hands with the crème de la crème of Santosh Trophy
13 Mar 2024

AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: When referee Lakshay blew the final whistle to signal the end of the 77th edition of the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy in Itanagar on Saturday, Shafeel PP felt like a man who just flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Never before in his career had Shafeel experienced such attention; a host of photographers rushed towards the Services dugout to click him from the closest possible angle, his teammates on the bench were all running in to hug him, the 15,000-strong crowd in the stands was chanting his name.

And why shouldn’t it be? After all, he was the man of the hour. The Services had just won the coveted Santosh Trophy, defeating favourites Goa, thanks to Shafeel’s all-important goal in the 68th minute.

The 26-year-old defender had no idea that the goal in the final made him a member of a elite club, which includes names like Tulsidas Balaram, PK Banerjee, Amjad Khan, Syed Latifuddin, Manas Bhattacharya, Mohammed Najeeb Raman Vijayan and Manvir Singh. All these players would be remembered in Indian Football history as the ones who scored the all-important goal in a Santosh Trophy final, the latest addition being jersey number 24 of the 2024 Services Santosh Trophy squad.

“Once the final whistle came, my mind went blank for a few minutes,” the striker-turned-defender told “Memories came rushing back. Everything about how I grew up as a poor boy in Thrissur and have come all the way to become the hero in the National Championship final played like a film in my life,” he said.

“I was born and brought up on the beaches of Thrissur. My father works as a helper in the vegetable market near our home on a temporary basis. My mother is a homemaker. We were poor. And we still are. I wasn’t great at my studies. But I had football that I enjoyed from Day One and clutched to it as my dearest friend,” Shafeel recalled.

He played local football and then played for the district. But Shafeel wanted more; he wanted to go higher with the ball on his right foot. One fine morning, young Shafeel took a bus to Bengaluru alone and appeared for trials at a Bangalore club.

“There was no looking back for me thereafter. I went on to play for Karnataka in the Santosh Trophy and then landed a job in the army at the ASC Centre in Bengaluru. Now I am a Havildar. I have a steady job, and I take care of my family expenses regularly,” said a proud Shafeel, who has an elder brother and a married sister back in Kerala.

Right wing-back remains Shafeel’s favourite position, though he played as a centre-back for Services in the Itanagar Santosh Trophy. “In Itanagar, I scored four goals in total, so I have a habit of scoring. In the final on Saturday, I received the ball from Rahul Ramakrishnan and as I lifted my head, I could spot the gap. So, I decided to take the shot from a distance and it went in,” said Shafeel with a laugh.

It was certainly the best and most important goal of his career, but Shafeel is looking for a bigger goal ahead. “Given an opportunity, I want to showcase my skills in the I-League, or ISL. The army has given me everything. They have given me stability in life, and the opportunity to play on a bigger stage. I want to play in professional leagues, provided I receive permission from my employers,” said Shafeel, life-long fan of another Thrissur great, IM Vijayan.

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