The southern state has witnessed a rise in popularity and contribution to football in the recent years. With Tamil players like Alexander Romario Jesuraj excelling in the ISL, it seems that the state could potentially emerge as a major footballing state in the country.
When we talk about football in India, it is always confined to a particular few regions. These are the regions where the great chunk of players come from. Naturally, these hotspots have embraced the beautiful game for years and have passed it on for generations. We can find those hotspots in Goa, the Northeastern states, Bengal, Punjab and Kerala. These regions have never failed to produce quality players. Another place which has considerable potential in that context is the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
The state has seen a rise in the number of professional players thanks to a wonderful platform like the I League club Chennai City FC. Tamil Nadu’s contribution to Indian football started around 1960 when a Tamil player Simon Sundararaj played for the Indian national team in the Olympics. In the midst of rise of Hyderabad, which produced one of the greatest coaches of the Indian national team, Syed Abdul Rahim, the South was dominated by them.
Football in Tamil Nadu reemerged only in the 90s when two iconic players Syed Sabir Pasha and Raman Vijayan played for the national team. Till now, they are considered to be one of the best to play the sport from their state. One player who seemed to have brought the Tamil flavour back to the national team was CS Sabeeth. The young forward even came on for Baichung Bhutia against Bayern Munich in the legend’s final match in national colours. After a short stint with the national team, he couldn’t keep up his place.
The Indian Super League multiplied the audience for Indian football and it made new talents visible to the whole nation. Though not young, the experienced defenders Dharmaraj Ravanan and Nallappan Mohanraj played in the first few seasons of the ISL. They were the representatives from the state in the nation’s popular league along with defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh. Dhanpal found a place in the national team in 2015 and his physical prowess was an asset that made him impress the then coach Stephen Constantine. But unluckily for him, injuries dented his career both in domestic and international football.
Although obsessed with cricket, football has a special place for youth in Tamil Nadu as the ISL grew up in popularity. Chennaiyin FC, even with very few local players gained so many fans from the state and the football audience got bigger. Jeje Lalpekhlua was made a club icon and those 2 ISL titles did a massive job in strengthening the fanbase. Having achieved considerable success in getting people to watch the beautiful game, there was still a lack of players from Tamil Nadu playing in the national leagues. Everything was bound to change in 2017 when Chennai City FC made their debut in the I League. The club’s backbone was a bunch of native players along with some experienced foreigners.