Former India captain and AIFF Technical Committee Chairman I.M. Vijayan didn’t just make history with the National Team, but also at club level. He was part of the title-winning JCT team in the inaugural National Football League (NFL) season in 1996/97.
With the introduction of opportunities for promotion to the Indian Super League as per the Roadmap approved by the AFC, this season is also something of a new beginning for the I-League, according to Vijayan.
“I-League has always been one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country and the upcoming season is going to be a historic one. I have very fond memories of the inaugural NFL season in 1996-97 with JCT. We won the league and were thrilled to witness thousands of fans whether we played in Kerala, Goa or Kolkata,” said the three-time AIFF Player of the Year.
Vijayan is delighted with the fact that Gokulam Kerala FC will be playing their first few home games out of Manjeri this season. “Manjeri getting to host I-League matches is fantastic news for Malappuram. The local crowd is very passionate about football and I’m sure they will throng the stadium in numbers like they did during the Santosh Trophy.”
Spurred on by the incredible atmosphere, Kerala lifted the Santosh Trophy in April this year with a win over Bengal in the final. The Malappuram fans are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of the I-League to the city.
The previous two I-League seasons were held entirely in Kolkata due to the pandemic and were won by Gokulam Kerala on both occasions, thus becoming the first team from Kerala to win the competition. “It was unprecedented for a team from Kerala to win back-to-back I-League titles in Kolkata. This season will be a special one for Gokulam as they return home in front of their fans as two-time defending champions,” added Vijayan.
The former India striker admitted that the possibility of an ISL derby in his home state between Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters does make him excited. “If Gokulam Kerala win the I-League again and get promoted to the ISL, it will be a big turning point in Kerala’s football history. The Kerala derby has all the potential to be one of the most passionate derbies in India. Gokulam (Kerala FC) will get a lot of support from the Malabar region,” Vijayan concluded.