In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kerala was India’s biggest football hub. Many renowned footballers like IM Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri came from the region. However, one player in particular by name of VP Sathyan was lost in history and never got any recognition.
VP Sathyan – The forgotten Football Captain of India
VP Sathyan, even if he was the former captain of the Indian Football team, is still only remembered for his mesmerizing 35-yard footer in the 1986 Merdeka tournament against South Korea. His magical goal took India into the semi-finals. Along with that VP Sathyan helped end Kerala’s 17-year Santosh Trophy title drought in 1992 and was part of the India squad that won the gold medal at the 1995 SAF Games in Chennai.
However, despite these heroic performances, the name and fame that followed fellow Kerala players IM Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri never came his way.
VP Sathyan belonged to that golden generation of Kerala players in the late 1980s and the early 1990s that lifted Santosh Trophy for Kerala (1992 – for the second time) and also won the Federation Cup and Durand Cup, first with Kerala Police and later with FC Kochin.
That golden lineup from Kerala had players like C V Pappachan, IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, Sharafali, et al. Although VP Sathyan has scored some memorable goals (the 35 meters long- rocket-shot versus South Korea in 1986 is a classic) for India, he was a natural defender. Due to his calm and composed behavior on-field, he never made headlines, but his awe-inspiring defending skills was his reflection on the determination to succeed and to fight for team cause.
IM Vijayan and Ancheri remember their captain VP Sathyan
“I think it had a lot to do with his role of being a defender in the side,” Vijayan told ESPN.
“We played many matches together in the national team with him as captain and me serving as vice-captain. I used to often joke with him that he should consider retiring so that I get a chance at captaincy. He rarely got the limelight but his indispensability in the team was evident when he missed even one match.”
Vijayan further adds, “I remember, he had two yellow cards so couldn’t play against South Korea in Seoul at the 1993 World Cup qualifiers. I was named a captain. But with our best defender out, even the goalkeeper Hemanta Dora felt unnerved and fell sick. Indian ended up losing 7-0. That’s the kind of difference a player like VP Sathyan could make to the team.”
Jo Paul Ancheri, who also played under Sathyan’s captaincy, remembers him as a player who stayed on in the practice field long after the rest of the team members had cleared out.
“He was a terrific player with an intimidating exterior, but a soft heart and a crazy love for the game. When I was young, I traveled everywhere from Thrissur to Coimbatore to watch him play. Even when I came into the sport, money was little and opportunities few so he encouraged me to try my luck in Kolkata clubs. There was so much more he deserved, but so little of it that he actually got.”
VP Sathyan – Story of the Unsung Hero (Biopic based on his life)
Prajesh Sen, the director of the film, VP Sathyan – Story of the Unsung Hero throws light on the life of anonymity that VP Sathyan lived through the re-telling of an incident that took place at the Bengaluru airport when he was still India captain.
In the movie (or the scene) VP Sathyan is shown absorbed reading a newspaper at the airport. His wife is teasing him for not being recognized by anyone around. At that moment a young girl walks up to him, introduces herself as a sports fan and requests for a pen. The couple exchanged glances of joy thinking that finally, someone is recognizing him. However, it’s a short-lived happiness as she takes that pen walks off to seek an autograph of Ravi Shastri in the VIP lounge.
The Irony of Indian sports is such that VP Sathyan hasn’t even bestowed with an Arjuna Award.
VP Sathyan commits suicide
In 2006, at the age of 41, VP Sathyan commited suicide by jumping in front of a suburban electric train at the Pallavaram station in Chennai. There were four suicide notes recovered from his body, which were addressed to different people.
Anitha, his wife says that “He used to tell me how despite the suicidal tendencies he never could get himself to take such an extreme step.
“He carried suicide notes with him, but he did not intent to end his life. I was pained when after his death everyone wrote about how financial crisis drove him to death, which is not true.
Football was everything for him.”
She further adds, “He played with a steel rod implanted in his left leg throughout his life after suffering a serious injury as a young child. It got worse as his career progressed and doctors advised us to remove the rod, but he feared it might take him away from the sport and never agreed for it. But once he was no longer in a position to continue playing, he was totally crushed. He couldn’t make peace with a life away from football.”
As promoters of Indian Sports, we feel dejected that such an amazing Indian talent never got his due. Though the once playing with him at the time became highly successful and earned great fame and name. This miss-match of not getting recognition for talented players is the reason KreedOn was started. And in future as well we will bring up the life and times of such amazing Indian sportspersons.