Spreading the beautiful game across different states is one of the key objectives in Vision 2047, and the Federation has begun that process by taking the Hero Santosh Trophy to newer heights. The Hero Santosh Trophy is now on a revival path, with the tournament's semi-finals and final set to be hosted abroad for the first time – in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The-aiff.com is in Riyadh, and will be following the progress of the four semi-finalists and other events around the Hero Santosh Trophy closely in a series of stories.
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Hero Santosh Trophy, the inter-state national football championship for senior men, has caught the imagination of the nation. For the first time in the history of this tournament, the semi-finals, 3rd place match, and the final are being played outside India, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Today’s young Indian Football fans may not be fully aware how big a tournament Santosh Trophy used to be. Footballers of yesteryears took great pride in being selected for their respective state teams for this tournament. From Chuni Goswami to Bhaichung Bhutia, from PK Banerjee to IM Vijayan – every Indian legend has represented his state and won laurels in this tournament.
The tournament gradually lost importance when the National Football League (which later became I-League) came into existence. But current All India Football Federation President Mr Kalyan Chaubey and Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran are doing their best to bring back the glory days of this inter-state competition. Former India Captain and current Chairperson of the AIFF Advisory Committee, Shabbir Ali, one of India’s best-ever strikers and a successful coach later, caught up with the-aiff.com about what Hero Santosh Trophy means to him and how he looks at the AIFF’s initiative of moving the last few matches to Saudi Arabia on this occasion.
“The Hero Santosh Trophy used to be the pinnacle of Indian Football in our playing days. I feel today, the tournament is all the more important. Because it gives representation to more states than the Hero ISL or the Hero I-League. They all need to be on the football map. You can’t leave out so many places in such a big country.”
He praised the AIFF officials for making the effort to rediscover the glory days of Hero Santosh Trophy. “As soon as it (the papers to hold Hero Santosh Trophy Semi-finals, 3rd Place Match and Final in Riyadh) was signed, I said it’s a big thing for the non-professional footballers. I congratulate Kalyan and Shaji for getting this done. After very long, I can hear people talking about the Santosh Trophy. It feels so good.”
Ali also hoped more importance would be given to this tournament in near future. “The response to the tournament was good in Odisha,” he said. “Hope more importance is given to it and it gets back its rightful place in Indian Football.
“I can’t tell you enough about how important it used to be when we were footballers. Many of us got jobs after playing well in Santosh Trophy. Even today, I don’t think it’s possible for everyone to become a professional footballer. There’s still a lot of gap between the grassroots to the professional level. This tournament can bridge that gap. It can provide some level of security for those who cannot turn professional,” he remarked.
Ali also praised Meghalaya for reaching the final. “They are a rising force in Indian Football, and they surprised me. I congratulate them. Kerala’s exit was also surprising. It shows how competitive this tournament is. There are no unbeatable teams, which is a great thing,” he signed off.