In the 20th century, the Santosh Trophy was the most prestigious trophy in Indian football. International selection was based on performances in these senior national championships. Rookie forwards Tulsidas Balaram and Zulfiqar were selected for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics based on their outstanding performances in the 1956 senior national championships in Trivandrum, which Hyderabad won for the first time beating Bombay 4-1 in the final. In contrast, the 66th Santosh trophy final to be held at Cuttack on May 29, 2012 between Services (champions in 1960) and Tamil Nadu (runners up in 1972) lacks glamour and status. At present, the Santosh Trophy is just a stepping stone for entry into an I-League club, nothing else. However, below are glimpses of the Santosh’s Trophy’s glorious history.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In the fifth annual general body meeting of the AIFF, at the Cricket Club of Bombay on 27 January 1941, a decision was made through which we saw the birth of the inter-state championships in the same year, but on a zonal basis, to cut down on expenditure. The winners of each zone would play in the final rounds. The winning team would get the Santosh trophy, valued in those days for the princely sum of Rs. 2,000.
In the inaugural year, 13 teams participated and were divided according to geographical zones, as follows:
Zone A: North West Frontier Province (NWFP, now in Pakistan), North West Indian Football Association (NWIFA-a region also now in Pakistan) and Army Sports Control Board (ASCB).
Zone B: Delhi, Rajputana and Sind
Zone C: Bengal (IFA), Dacca (now part of Bangladesh), Bihar and U.P.
Zone D: Madras, Mysore and Western India Football Association (WIFA-the controlling body of the game in Bombay).
The zone winners qualified for the final, held in Calcutta. Bengal won the inaugural tournament beating Delhi 5-1. The best match was between Bengal and Bombay (WIFA) in the semi finals. Bombay fielded two English professionals, Hill and Langton, both of whom had played for Blackburn Rovers. Bengal won by a solitary goal, scored by left winger Pat D’Mellow direct from a corner kick.
All of India’s illustrious forwards from Mewa Lal to Baichung Bhutia have played in the senior national football championships for the Santosh Trophy and scored memorable goals. Yet one of the best goals ever scored is not by the skillful Chuni Goswami, T. Balaram or Inder Singh or sharp-shooters like P.K. Banerjee, Zulfiqar, Moin or Sukalayan Ghosh Dastidar, but surprisingly by an international defender Arun Ghosh. In the 1960 Calicut Nationals, the mighty Bengal was struggling against the tenacious Assam in the quarter-finals. The match-winner was like a bolt from the blue. The Assam defence partially cleared a Bengal attack and as the high ball was landing, Arun Ghosh, facing his own goal, executed an acrobatic scissors volley that brooked no denial. He never scored such a breathtaking goal again.
For sheer power, few could match Bengal’s striker of the early seventies, Sukalyan Ghosh Dastidar. Goa staged the national championships for the first time in 1972. With international goalkeeper Sudhir in top form, a sturdy defence, George Ambrose, Chathunni and Nicholas Pereira, skipper and midfielder George Rosemond and strikers Williams and Bernard sharp in attack, the hosts clashed with Bengal in the semi finals. This match finished as an exciting 2-2 draw. Goa led 2-1, minutes before the final whistle. However, Bengal equalised with a booming 40-yard pile driver by Sukalayan Ghosh, which zoomed into the net. The vociferous Goa supporters were silenced and Bengal won the penalty shoot-out and annexed the Santosh Trophy that year, beating Tamil Nadu 4-1 in the final.
Hyderabad, coached by the legendary late S.A. Rahim, were on the verge of a hat-trick of Santosh Trophy titles in the Madras Nationals of 1958-59. However, in the quarter- final league phase, Services sharp-shooter Capt. Moloy Lahiri foiled the dream. He scored a memorable hat-trick, which enabled Services to upset Hyderabad 5-2 and eliminate the 1956 and 1957 title winners from the championships.
Punjab staged the National football championships for the first time in Jullundur, 1970 because they had the confidence that they could win the title. However, in the semi final, they were up against the mighty Bengal and were trailing 0-1 till a few minutes before the final whistle and looked down and out. In a sudden change of events, the burly striker Manjit Singh latched onto a throw from the left and bulldozed past two of India’s finest defenders Sudhir Karmakar and Syed Nayeemuddin to score from close range. Bengal got demoralised and lost the penalty shoot-out. It was the first time that Punjab had beaten Bengal. Manjit’s goal gave them the tonic of self-belief and from 1970 till 1995, Punjab won the Santosh trophy six times and were runners-up thrice.
Baichung Bhutia scored the first ever golden goal in the Santosh trophy final in 1995 at Chennai, enabling Bengal to pip Punjab 2-1. Before the match, Bengal’s coach Syed Nayeemuddin gambled and dropped international midfielder Gunabir Singh and included Baichung as a striker. Till then Baichung had played mostly as a midfielder or withdrawn striker. Nayeem, noted for his astute game reading felt that Baichung had the razor-sharp reflexes to be a top class striker. The young Baichung justified his coach’s faith and scored a memorable goal. The rest as they say is history. Baichung became the first Indian to play 100 international matches. He retired after scoring 43 goals in 107 international matches.
In the 1945 Nationals, Bengal outclassed Rajputana 7-0. Fred Pugsley, scored all the seven goals. This is a record tally by an individual in a single match in the Santosh Trophy and it is still unbroken. Incidentally, Pugsley was a Burmese, who was playing for East Bengal. In pre-independence India, eligibility rules were lax and foreigners could play in the National championships. Pugsley had walked all the way from Rangoon to Calcutta in 1943 to escape the Japanese annexation and went straight to East Bengal seeking for help. The club officials nurtured him back to full health and in return he became one of the first foreigners to have excelled for the club.
In the 1974 Jullundur (that was how it was spelt in those days) Nationals, Punjab won the Santosh Trophy for the second time. In the final, they routed Bengal 6-0. The Punjab team had been training for over a month and had a slick forward line consisting of Inder Singh, the late Manjit Singh and the brilliant ball player Harjinder Singh. Inder, who had by then twice led India in the Merdeka tournament, stole the limelight. He scored 23 goals, the best ever individual scoring tally in the Santosh Trophy till date.
In the 1960s, Bengal won the Santosh Trophy, the most prestigious trophy in Indian football, only twice in 1963 and 1969. However in 1969, Bengal led by left back Santo Mitra, produced a memorable display, outclassing all opposition to win the Santosh Trophy in style. Bengal routed Goa 4-0, Tamil Nadu 8-0, Andhra Pradesh 4-0 and 6-1 in the double-legged semi-finals and Services 6-1 in the final. Bengal recorded a phenomenal 28 goals and conceded just two. The wily inside-forward Mohammed Habib finished as top-scorer with 11 goals, including two hat-tricks against Madras and Services in the final. It was the first hat-trick in a Santosh trophy final. Other major goal-scorers for Bengal in this championship were left winger Pronob Ganguly 6 goals, and inside-forwards Biman Lahiri (5 goals) and Sukalyan Ghosh Dastidar (4 goals).
One of India’s most agile goalkeepers C. Mustafa impressed for his home state Kerala, in his first nationals in Calicut, 1960. He was immediately snapped up by Mohammedan Sporting and helped them win the DCM tournament in 1964.
Indian football’s glamour boy Chuni Goswami captivated Kerala’s fans in his inaugural Santosh Trophy in Ernakulam in 1955, with his mesmerising dribbling skills.
P.K. Banerjee first played in the Santosh Trophy at Calcutta in 1953 as a precocious 17year-old right-winger for Bihar. They beat Madras 1-0 and afterwards held Bengal, to successive draws (0-0 and 1-1) before losing 0-1 to a goal scored by 1952 Olympic captain defender Salien Manna. P.K. got a paltry sum of Rs. 6 (six rupees only) as pocket expenses during these national championships. P.K. impressed in this tournament and moved to Calcutta the next season.
The league-cum-knock out format was introduced in the 15th National championships held in Madras in 1958. Bengal emerged champions beating Services 1-0 in the final. Inside-left Tulsidas Balaram scored a brilliant goal after dribbling past a couple of defenders in the penalty area.
On March 6, 1983, Goa captured the Santosh Trophy for the first time, finishing as joint champions with Bengal. This is the only time where the Santosh Trophy has been shared between two opponents. Also, this is the only occasion in which Bengal has hosted the Santosh trophy and not won it outright. Goa’s skipper Brahmanand Shankhwalkar gave a sterling display as goalkeeper and both the final and replay ended in goalless draws. It was a proud moment for him as he went to receive the trophy on his 28th birthday. In a sporting gesture, the Bengal skipper Compton Dutta allowed Goa to keep the trophy for the first six months.
In 1990, the AIFF experimented with the Nationals and made it an Under-23 year’s tournament. States participated in a qualifying round on a zonal basis and top eight played in the quarter-final league at the Nehru stadium Margao. Goa defeated Kerala 2-0 in the final on May 27, 1990. International midfielder Mario Soares was Goa’s skipper. The members of the Goa team each got Rs. 30,000 for this landmark win.
The U-23 nationals lasted for only three years. In the 1993-94 Santosh Trophy at Cuttack, the old format of all states playing at the same venue and no age-restrictions was reverted to.