Department teams once used to hold a significant role in the betterment of Indian football. The past witnessed the rise of many local stars from the department teams who went onto become the legends of Indian football namely V P Sathyan, I M Vijayan, U Sharaf Ali, and so on. Thus, for a clarity check, we can examine whether the department teams which acted as a feeding pool for Indian football continues to work in the same way or not?
Currently, in Kerala, there are a total of five department teams namely Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), State Bank of India (SBI; previously known as SBT), Kerala Police, Central Excise, and Accountant General’s office (AG’s office) Team. These were the five strong pillars of Kerala Football who earned many trophies and medals at the state and national levels. But as a football fan, it’s anguishing to know that only two among the five teams exists in the picture right now.
KSEB and Kerala Police are the only two teams that regularly conduct time-to-time recruitments and delivers proper training for the players. They impart their existence by playing in the Kerala Premier league which takes place once a year. SBI is slipping away from the mainframe at a fast pace, and they haven’t taken place in any prominent tournaments since 2018. Meanwhile, AG’s office and Central Excise team which used to be the black horses of Kerala Football are being questioned for their existence as they have remained invisible from football for the past couple of years.
What’s more detrimental is the rules and regulations set forward by the department teams which forbids the players from playing professional football. Whenever a department team signs a player, the players are asked to endorse a bond of 5-8 years to make them stay liable to the rules. If they break the contract they are subjected to a huge monetary penalty. The players are also not allowed to play professional football in the due period. Under these ordinances, they are not authorized to sign for any I-League or Indian Super League (R) teams.
While most of the department teams from other states are flexible in their policies, Kerala Department teams are holding to the old set of rules which was formulated a decade ago. With no proper training and only a handful of matches, and none for some department teams, the majority of the players wish to play for professional clubs. In a calendar year, a department team player spends 90% of the time devoid of matches and many are under stress and trauma due to lack of action. Many of the talented players who have the prospect to play in the top flight are now squandering their golden period by working in some random offices of certain departments.
It’s intriguing to know that majority of the ISL/I-League players from other states belong to one department or the other of their respective states. Indian Navy is among the department teams which are flexible in their policies. Indian Navy comprises players like Britto P M (Northeast United FC) , Shreyas V G (Minerva Punjab FC), Shibinraj Kunniyil (Churchill Brothers SC) playing at top flights in professional football. In the Indian Navy, the players are consented a NOC to play for professional teams and they call them back whenever there is a tournament for the Indian Navy. The main reason why other states are authorizing Non Objection Certificate (NOC) for players is that they get top-class coaching and match experience playing in the leagues which upgrades the players’ skills and indirectly bolster the department teams as well.
In current situations, only a player who has substantiated his excellence in ISL is granted national call-ups. It’s every player’s dream to don the national jersey and for that, they need to prove their talent in I-League or ISL reserve team’s first to get signed by any of the ISL teams to accomplish their ultimate goal.
There’s a bunch lot of gifted players like Askar V. S(Central Excise), Muhammad Parakottil (KSEB), Jijo Joseph (SBI) who have the quality to play in ISL. Currently, the top tournament which these players are playing forthwith is Kerala Premier League, which is even lower than I-League 2nd division. Acknowledging the short career of a footballer, the reason many of them sign for department teams is due to the job security and their current poor economic status.
Current ATK Mohunbagan FC winger, Jobby Justin was a player of KSEB once. In 2017, KSEB granted him three months’ permission to play for East Bengal and that move proved to be his life-changing moment as he shined in the Red and Gold Brigade. Due to the employed policies, KSEB called him back but the player continued to play for East Bengal and as a result, he was forced to resign from his current job before getting a red mark from the department. Since then his graph hiked steeply with the player getting signed by ATKMB and also representing the national colours on several occasions. Even a current Indian-international player like him is still struggling hard to get a job in the government sector. This scenario is not new in Kerala football as the former Kerala Blasters FC star forward C K Vineeth encountered the same issue subjected to loss of his job at AG’s office.
One of the former Kerala Santhosh Trophy team captain who himself is a department team player opines that current department team coaches and former department team players who now hold a significant position in the department must bring this topic to discussion with the authorities and collectively bring about a change in the policies.
When the whole nation is dreaming for the World Cup and Kerala being one of the powerhouses of Indian football, it’s high time that these department teams must bring about changes in their old set of policies unless they are providing proper game time and match experience for the players if they truly care about Indian Football!
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