The Santosh Trophy was started in 1941. It was named after the late Maharaja Sir Manmatha Nath Roy Chowdhary of Santosh (the place is now in Bangladesh). At that time he was the President of the Indian Football Association, the football organisation of Bengal and the donator of the trophy.
Bengal has won it record 31 times, miles ahead of second placed Punjab who has won it on 8 occasions. Kerala and Goa are tied at third with 5 titles each.
Durand Cup, Rovers Cup, Kalinga cup etc were the other trophies which clubs vied to win. But Santosh Trophy remained the top most honours among them. It was the trophy where states fielded their best talent and people pinned high hopes. States and teams used to run camps for weeks with best trainers. The best players were then picket from the bunch.
After a long time, the Trophy hit the headlines of media. The main reason for it was the hero’s welcome that the Mizoram team received in their home state after winning their maiden final. In the previous years, the trophy got a poor attention and we have to strike the reasons.
In the year 1996, AIFF started National Football League (Later it became I League). Till then, Santosh trophy was the top most trophy to be played for. Many believe that it was the death knell. But the ugly script has started much earlier.
In 1990, AIFF made it a Under-23 annual tournament. After 3 years time, this bizarre decision was taken back and doors were opened for all the players. Then national coach Bob Haughton called the trophy wastage of time and talent. His logic got strength when Sunil Chhetri injured himself while playing for Delhi in a Santosh Trophy match. As a consequence, he was ruled out of Nehru Cup. It was to be played a month later in the National Capital. Upon his insistence, all the top national team players were barred from playing in the cup. It took all the sheen away from the much cherished cup.
Better sense prevailed in the jury of selectors and entry was again allowed to all. Many people believe that the trophy is a perfect launch pad to I League for many players. But reality presents a very sorry state of soccer. Many States came just to fulfil the formality and standard of many matches was very abysmal.
Prize money speaks sad volume for itself. AIFF spends 1 crore rupees to conduct the whole tournament. The winner collects a cheque of 5 lakh rupees. It is peanuts if we compare it with I League. The budget for it was 15 crore this year and winner will purse 70 lakh rupees. Durand Cup (organized by Indian Army in Delhi) has increased the money sharply in all the slabs. Durand Cup in 2013 ran on the budget of 50 lakh rupees. Winner got 25 lakh (up from 10 lakh) rupees and runner up pocketed 15 lakh in 2013.
Football is no. 1 game of North East. Santosh Trophy might be irrelevant for many but it carries special meaning for Mizoram. The Hero’s welcome showered on them makes the writing on the wall clear. AIFF should take a leaf out of it and start rejuvenating the ‘Cup of glory.’