Manjeri’s Finest: Rabeeh, Suhair make merry in Malappuram!

The town of Manjeri was probably never happier seeing a match between two teams from a neutral perspective, when East Bengal FC took on Hyderabad FC at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium on Thursday, April 13.

The game itself ended 3-3, but it was the scorers for the two sides that got the crowd buzzing. Local boy Suhair VP had put East Bengal into an early lead when the score was still 1-1 as he placed a rebound into the back of the net. The crowd in Manjeri, probably not recognising the scorer at first, merely clapped in appreciation of the goal. However, as the PA system in the stadium announced who it was, an almighty roar went up, as the locals celebrated one of their own.

The Red and Golds went on to take a 3-1 lead by half time, but Hyderabad mounted a comeback in the second half, with the high-intensity match getting a much-deserved fairytale ending; Abdul Rabeeh, another one of the local boys netted a late equaliser to tie the game 3-3 as fantastic scenes emerged after the match. The 22-year-old, a fairly unknown quantity in Indian Football, had his family and friends in the stands, who had brought banners of their favourite boy, who immediately went over to thank them for their support after the final whistle.

“This was my second match for Hyderabad, and I’m happy that I could score my first goal in this town where I have grown up,” Rabeeh said to “All my family and friends were there in the stands, and it really was a special moment to score in front of them. This was the first time they saw me score.”

Suhair, who is quite well known in these parts, lives just 20 minutes from the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium. The 30-year-old has been around in Indian football for some time, having played for top clubs like Mohun Bagan, where he won the I-League, Gokulam Kerala FC, and NorthEast United FC. In fact, both Suhair and Rabeeh have played together in local football tournaments in their younger days.

“Yes, we have known each other for some time, and we’ve also played in a few local tournaments here in Malappuram,” said Suhair. “Of course, it was mixed emotions for me. Of course, I wanted us (East Bengal) to win the match, but I was also happy to see another local boy score. I am sure every fan in the stands is happy.”

Rabeeh was thankful to the crowd that took it’s time out of a busy Ramzan schedule to come to the match and watch two of their own start in a high-profile Super Cup game.

“People in Malappuram are crazy about football. That is not to say that other parts of Kerala don’t follow the game, but that football enjoys an altogether different level of popularity here,” said Rabeeh.

For Suhair, it brought back memories of his early days in football, when he first got an opportunity in the Kerala team in the Santosh Trophy, and he managed to score a hat-trick in his first game against Karnataka. “It’s a wonderful stadium, and I have such fond memories of scoring a hat-trick in my first match for Kerala here, against Karnataka,” said Suhair. “The people here are passionate, and they love football. Even during the Ramzan month, they are coming to watch football after finishing their fasting and worship.”

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