New Delhi, May 29 (IANS): Institutional teams at one time had a strong presence in Indian football with some of them like Hyderabad Police, and Kerala Police winning major national-level tournaments and others like State Bank of Travancore, Air India, ONGC along with teams from Services and Railways making their mark during their times.
Many of them are now defunct because of dwindling funding and lack of support, others are barely surviving and mostly engaged in local leagues.
The announcement by the All India Football Federation of introducing an Institutional League to create more avenues for competition for footballers playing in PSUs, state departments, and police units, has provoked conversation within the community in the country. For many the league will come as a boon, offering them a chance to play competitive football and showcase their talent for selection to the higher echelons of the game.
For Indian football legend IM Vijayan, the announcement has rekindled old memories as Vijayan came into prominence and developed as a player while representing an institution.
"I was drafted into Kerala Police when I was a teenager," says IM Vijayan, who is also the chairman of the AIFF panel that decided to introduce the Institutional League.
"It's only after I played for Kerala Police that I went on to play for Mohun Bagan, JCT, East Bengal and all. My entire journey started with Kerala Police, who gave me a job, and a chance to play and show my game at high levels," said Vijayan, who knows all about the benefits of a government job, the talent present within a department team, and success that can be achieved with it,
Considered by many to be the silkiest player India has ever produced, Vijayan, in a storied career, went on to win several titles, and accolades, which included two Federation Cup titles when he was part of the Kerala Police team.
"In my time the Kerala Police team was a legendary team," Vijayan was quoted as saying by the AIFF website in an article. "We had Sathyan, Chacko, Sharaf Ali, and Pappachan all great players. Playing with them really honed my skills too. I credit them with really kickstarting my career and owe them a lot."
Vijayan, who is currently the director of the Kerala Police Football Academy, an Executive Committee Member of the AIFF and Chairperson of the Technical Committee at the All India Football Federation, believes the Institutional League will revitalise investment in department teams and benefit players in the long run.
"One of the big complaints by a lot of departments, including SBI, SBT, FCI, was that there were no tournaments and competitions for them to play in through the years," Vijayan said. "They didn't see the benefit of putting together a team just to be in training. This will encourage them to recruit more players also."
The India legend believes that creating more avenues for game time, more tournaments and competitions will lead to the greater and truer realisation of the Federation's target of the roadmap 'Vision 2047'.
"The truth is that not every footballer in the country is going to play the ISL and the
"I-League. But that doesn't mean they do not deserve to play in tournaments, get game time, and employment for their skills. I'm glad that the Federation has taken this decision to launch the Institutional League, it will do a lot for young players who have sports quota jobs with different units. It will also encourage more to take up the sport knowing that they can play it and also gain employment through it," Vijayan said.