In 1984, the then Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) thought it would be a good idea to form a football team for the police department. He not only realized the potential of the talent pool available in the state but also wanted to try and bring in a positive image in the minds of the people of the state when they think of the department.
The situation was very different back then. There were years when the department did not generate the kind of appreciation and the 'friendly feeling' that it does now. So it was not just a football project, but also a move to get closer to Keralites.
Kurikesh Mathew, who joined Kerala Police from Kannur-based Keltron FC in 1985 and later captained the team to the famous Federation Cup triumph of 1990, told Goal, "When the department failed to perform in the All India Police Games, MK Joseph Sir and the Govt. of Kerala came to the conclusion that we needed to recruit talented players and it was the former's brainchild. Joseph Sir was the backbone of the whole project - he was helped by DIG Gopinath Sir. The government wanted to make the Kerala Police team a strong team. The same people who cried, "Kerala Police Go Back!" had started cheering for us."
The Kerala Police team of the mid-80s - when they started out - had several names who went on to make a mark in Indian football such as VP Sathyan, Tobias, Sharaf Ali, Santosh, Rajendran Kaladharan etc. The team, which trained at the Police Training College in Trivandrum, had a new signing soon after it was put together in the form of CV Pappachan, who had impressed manager Abdul Kareem with his displays initially for the Calicut University team. He also shone later for the Indian University team against the China University team in a fixture that was telecast on Doordarshan back in the day.
"Abdul Kareem Sir, the then manager, paid me a visit. Back then, it was scary to see a police vehicle in front of your house. Abdul sir told my mother about giving me a job as the Assistant Sub-Inspector and took me in," CV Pappachan told Goal .
The Kerala Police had a good run in the mid-80s and welcomed a few more additions towards the end of the decade, one of which was none other than the legendary Indian striker IM Vijayan. The Kalo Harin was once again a pick of Joseph who was impressed by the teenager and roped him in at the age of 17.
The team made a name for themselves in a few years. They won their first trophy in 1986 in Kottayam. But as the same squad played and trained together day in and day out for several years, the team chemistry received a huge boost and that yielded the success in the early 90s.
U Sharafali explained to Goal, "The team couldn't succeed in the first two years, we lacked experienced players. But after that, the performance of the team improved and we became one of the best teams in Kerala. VP Sathyan and I earned a spot in the India national team by 1987. The Kerala Police team management provided the required facilities to train and improve. Kerala Police has been able to contribute several footballers to the national team."
One of the biggest achievements of the team was the victory in the 1990 Federation Cup. And a peek behind the scenes of that remarkable tournament 30 years ago reveals a couple of interesting facts.
Firstly, the Kerala Police team wasn't initially a direct choice for that competition. Back then, it was the winners of the Kaumudy Trophy who earned a spot to compete in the Cup. And an attempt to win the Federation Cup was a matter of pride as the Cup winners got to represent India in Asian competitions. It was the Titanium football team that triumphed that year and Kerala Police had lost.
However, with the competition being held in Thrissur, Kerala, zonal playoffs were conducted in Kollam with the intention of bringing in a local club. Kerala Police won the qualification playoffs and joined Titanium as Kerala's entry into the Federation Cup.
Secondly, head coach AM Sreedharan was replaced by eventual Cup-winner TK Chathunni just before the season started. While the details and the reasons for that change are unknown, it is speculated that Sreedharan did not feel confident about taking the team forward and that led to Chathunni taking over. The rest, as they say, is history.
The players from that team have cited two major reasons for their success during that period - physical fitness and team chemistry. There was running, special physical training and conditioning for the players at the camp set up in Thrippunithura. Fitness-wise, that team was solid.
Although a few of the members of the 1984 Kerala Police team left, new members, like IM Vijayan and KT Chacko joined and the core of the squad remained intact. They developed a strong bond that allowed them to premeditate each others' movements on the field. As a result, the Kerala Police, who were a well-coordinated and organized unit under TK Chathunni, beat favourites and Goan giants Salgaocar 2-1 in 1990 at Thrissur in the final. They went on to retain the Cup a year later in Kannur against Mahindra with the same scoreline.
It was the triumph in 1991 that earned the team a chance to take part in the Asian Club Championship but being a departmental team, lacking professionally contracted players like those in a football club, they did not take part.
"We lived together, travelled together, had food together, slept in the same hall. And we had the discipline of Police. As far other teams were concerned, they were not privy to what the players did after training. For us, it was not like that. We trained twice a day, played together and got used to it. Sundays were our only off-days," recollected Pappachan, who scored twice in the final to deny a hat-trick of Cup wins for Salgaocar who were the champions in 1988 and 1989.
Sharafali agreed, "We had a telepathic understanding between each other. If I am taking the ball forward, my teammates knew what kind of a cross to expect. We covered each other at the back. That played a huge part in our success in the early 90s."
When Kerala Police became the first police department in the country to win a tournament like the prestigious Federation Cup, little did the overjoyed players from that team know about the impact they were leaving on the history of Kerala football.