Soda seller, Indian footballer of the year, Arjuna Awardee, National Observer and soon-to-be Padma Shri…
Soda seller-turnt-Indian football legend Inivalappil Mani Vijayan has led the way for those who want to believe that nothing is impossible.
Vijayettan or Viju Bhai or Kalo Hiran, as he is affectionately called by many, after a highly successful football career, has been recommended for India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri award.
The former striker’s Indian football story is incredible. It is a tale of talent and spirit to become the best.
As a youngster, the Thrissur Gedi (Thrissur-born) watched games at the district’s Municipal Corporation stadium alongside his father Mani who was the first football lover that he knew.
One of the turning points of his career, and certainly the one that kickstarted his journey, was when DGP MK Joseph selected him for the Kerala Police team when he was a teenager. He soon earned his place in the first team and was a superstar in no time during a period that can be considered as the golden era of football in Kerala.
Vijayan went on to win the first-ever All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the year award in 1992 and earned the gong two more times in his career. During an illustrious career, he took the field for Mohun Bagan, FC Cochin, JCT, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers.
He is adored by the famous Kolkata crowd due to his stint there and that itself is a testament to his legendary status in Indian football. In 2003, he was honoured with the Arjuna Award by the Government of India for his outstanding achievement in sports.
Vijayan wasn’t a wonderkid that faded away after a few good seasons. His consistent displays helped him earn a place in the India national team and he duly delivered. Talk to an Indian football aficionado about IM Vijayan’s national team career and he will tell you about the goal he scored against Bhutan in the 1999 SAF Games – a strike in 12 seconds to record one of the fastest goals ever scored in football.
After his playing days, he was also appointed as the National Observer for football by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Post-retirement awards aside, give Vijayan a ball and he can still showcase a few tricks, and that’s regularly witnessed by the Sevens football crowd in Kerala.
His undying love for football keeps him going every day. When he’s not busy talking about or playing football, he is acting in movies. He was most recently seen on screen as a villain in Vijay-starrer, football-based blockbuster Bigil.
The impending Padma Shri award is nothing less than what he deserves. He is, after all, IM Vijayan, whose career is a tale to pass on to the next generation.