AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Newly-crowned champions Gokulam Kerala FC were met with a rousing reception when they landed in Kozhikode, Kerala on Monday, March 29, 2021, with the coveted Hero I-League trophy at the Calicut International Airport.
Kerala has often been known for its sheer passion for the beautiful game, and that passion was prominently on show when the Malabarians faithful finally got to glimpse the coveted trophy – their maiden Hero I-League title.
“Kerala has been a powerhouse in Indian football. but it had been sleeping for two decades. We have had great teams like Kerala Police and FC Kochi in the past, but it was high time for us to revive that past,” said Gokulam Kerala FC CEO Dr Ashok Kumar. “We have proved that our state is as much a powerhouse as the likes of Goa, West Bengal, Manipur, Mizoram or Meghalaya.”
Speaking about the rapturous reception that the Malabarians got upon their arrival, Dr Ashok said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. The closest thing I have seen to this was when the Indian Cricket Team would land in Chennai, after a successful tour in Australia.”
The Hero I-League came to a grandstand finish on March 27, when three teams were tied on the same number of points at the top of the table – Gokulam Kerala FC, Churchill Brothers FC Goa, and TRAU FC. Needing a win to ensure their maiden league title, the Malabarians came back from a goal down to defeat the Red Pythons 4-1. Despite the fact that Gokulam finished on the same number of points with Churchill, who also picked up the three points in their final match of the season against RoundGlass Punjab, the former were crowned champions by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
However, it has not been an easy season for the Malabarians, who had stumbled along their way in Phase I of the Hero I-League, before finally picking up the pace in Phase II, where they picked up 16 points from a possible 18, to finish top.
“It was always a building process for us. If you look at our squad, we have plenty of local players who have long contracts. It’s all about working with them, even when they make mistakes and keep on improving as a team, as a family,” said Technical Director Bino George.
“It was the same case with us this season as well. Our technical staff constantly worked on the mistakes that we made in Phase I, so that by the time we were in Phase II, we were functioning like well-oiled machinery,” he continued. “We want to grow football both in Kerala and in India.”
With their maiden Hero I-League win of the season, Gokulam Kerala have now sealed direct qualification for the 2022 AFC Cup Group Stage, subject to AFC Club Licensing.