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Kerala Kaumudi Online
Sunday, 14 July 2024 7.12 AM IST

Remembering T K Chathunni: A legacy in Indian football

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T K Chathunni, an extraordinary talent in Indian football, devoted half a century to the sport as both a player and a coach. From humble beginnings in Chalakudy, Thrissur, Chathunni’s football genius earned him admirers across India. His influence was profound, extending to Bengal and Goa, where football is a passion and often regarded as a religion. During his prime, major clubs eagerly sought this Malayali coach's expertise.

Chathunni's impact on Indian football is immense. Even past the age of 80, his enthusiasm for the game never waned. He remained dedicated to nurturing talent and promoting the sport, reflecting a lifelong commitment that transcended mere professional duty.

Chathunni’s early journey began in class five, playing for his school team. His prowess soon led to his selection for the army, where he developed into one of India's finest stopper-backs through the services team. He represented Services, Goa and Maharashtra in the Santosh Trophy. After retiring from the army in 1970, Chathunni transitioned to coaching, leaving an indelible mark on numerous teams including Kerala Police, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar, Dempo, FC Cochin, Viva Kerala, Golden Threads, JOSCO FC and Viva Chennai.

A pivotal moment in his coaching career was leading Kerala Police to victory in the 1990 Federation Cup. Under his mentorship, players like I.M. Vijayan, V.P. Sathyan, Pappachan, Joe Paul Ancheri, Bruno Coutinho and Denson Devdas flourished. Chathunni's approach was a blend of affectionate support and strict discipline, earning him the enduring respect and love of his players. His dedication went beyond the field; when his disciple Dhanraj tragically passed away, Chathunni organized a charity match to support Dhanraj’s family, exemplifying his deep compassion.

Despite his success with top-tier teams, Chathunni never shied away from coaching smaller clubs, embracing every opportunity with enthusiasm. His commitment extended to activism, as seen when he led a satyagraha to secure a new school ground in Chalakudy after the original was lost to road construction.

Chathunni’s legacy, however, has been marred by neglect from sports authorities in Kerala. Despite his monumental contributions, he was often overlooked for accolades, only receiving a lifetime achievement award late in his career. This oversight is a stark reminder of the need for greater recognition of those who shape the sport.

T.K. Chathunni’s life and work will continue to inspire future generations. His story is one of passion, dedication, and unwavering commitment to football, serving as a beacon for aspiring players and coaches. His influence on Indian football is enduring, a testament to a man who lived and breathed the sport until his last breath.

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