Kerala is a state that, perhaps more than any other, lives and breathes football, embracing its many fascinations and interests. The 'Football Mad' state of Kerala boasts an exceptional track record of producing a significant number of talented individuals who have made their mark in Indian Football year after year.

Several sons of Kerala have plied their trade in Kolkata and are recognised as icons in Kolkata, a city known as the ‘Mecca of Indian Football’. The people of Kolkata hold these players from the coastal state in high regard for their significant contributions to their respective Kolkata clubs.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the finest Kerala players who have graced the Kolkata clubs.

IM Vijayan

IM Vijayan, one of Kerala's greatest footballers, has left an indelible impact on Indian supporters who continue to admire him even after his retirement.

Hailing from Thrissur, Vijayan is widely recognised as one of India's finest forwards. Although his journey wasn't easy, starting from humble beginnings selling soda and cigarettes at football games, his immense talent couldn't be ignored.

Nicknamed Kalo Harin, Vijayan was a talented football player known for his exceptional skills and aggressive style of play. He first played for Kerala Police Football Club, where his abilities were recognised, leading to his selection. He later joined Mohun Bagan in 1991 but returned to Kerala Police the following year before going back to Mohun Bagan.

Vijayan was loved by fans for his dazzling skills and goal-scoring ability. He made a remarkable comeback with Mohun Bagan in 1998, scoring numerous goals over three seasons. He also had successful stints with other clubs before joining East Bengal FC in 2001, where he scored an impressive 19 goals in just 18 matches. Although he left the club the next year, he ended his career with East Bengal FC in the 2005-06 season, scoring 11 more goals.

He has also won numerous accolades for the national team, making 70 appearances and scoring 29 goals. Vijayan was the first player to win the AIFF Player of the Year award three times.

PBA Saleh

Puthanparambil Babakhan Abdul Razzaq Saleh, popularly known as PBA Saleh, was an integral member of the Pancha Pandavas of East Bengal FC. The renowned penta-forward line of East Bengal FC comprised Ahmed Khan, Appa Rao, P. Venkatesh, P.B.A. Saleh, and K. P. Dhanraj, who played together for the Red and Gold Brigade from 1949 to 1953.

Hailing from Kottayam, Saleh represented East Bengal FC for a remarkable nine years, contributing significantly to the team's numerous accolades during that period and scoring an impressive 55 goals.

Notably, East Bengal FC became the first team in independent India to defeat a European club, Goteborg, on home soil, with Saleh scoring the decisive winning goal for the Red and Gold Brigade. He also served as the club captain during the 1950-51 season and represented the Bengal team in the Santosh Trophy.

Saleh is also known for scoring the famous brace against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the 1951 IFA Shield final when East Bengal FC became the first Indian team to win the IFA Shield for three consecutive years.

His contributions extended beyond the club level, as Saleh played a pivotal role in India's triumph at the 1951 Asian Games and represented the nation in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. In the later stages of his career, Saleh also played for Calcutta Customs.

Jo Paul Ancheri

Next up is Jo Paul Ancheri, another prominent player born in Kerala who has represented both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal FC.

The former Indian international began his career with the State Bank of Travancore before moving to Mohun Bagan, where he had a remarkable season. Ancheri scored an impressive 32 goals in 48 matches for Mohun Bagan and was also selected for the national squad based on his impressive club performances. In the Independence Cup, he scored two goals in four matches for India and was awarded the best player accolade. As a result, he was named the AIFF Player of the Year in 1994.

Ancheri was known for his versatility, playing in multiple positions such as defensive midfielder, midfielder, and striker. He returned to Mohun Bagan in 1998 and achieved success, winning the Federation Cup in 1998 and the IFA Shield in 1998 and 1999.

Ancheri represented East Bengal FC for two seasons and won three titles, including the IFA Shield in 2001 and two Durand Cups. He was once again named the AIFF Player of the Year in 2001. Ancheri retired from professional football while playing for the Mariners during the 2004-05 season.

Muttath Suresh

Nicknamed "Suresh Dada" by his followers in Kolkata, Suresh began his club career with Mohun Bagan after catching the eye of their management. There, under the guidance of Subrota Bhattacharya, he transitioned from a wing-back to a centre-back position and won the Durand Cup in his debut season.

He later left Mohun Bagan and joined Mahindra United, where he once again clinched the Durand Cup in the following season. However, fate brought him back to Kolkata, this time with East Bengal FC, where he thrived and became a prominent star for the team. Notably, Suresh achieved the remarkable feat of winning the Durand Cup for three consecutive years during his time with East Bengal FC.

Throughout his seven-year tenure with the Red and Gold Brigade, Suresh won numerous trophies, including two National Football Championships (NFL), the IFA Shield, the Federation Cup, and the prestigious ASEAN Cup. His successful stint with East Bengal FC left a lasting legacy in Kolkata.

As a physically strong defender, Suresh led East Bengal FC to victory in the Federation Cup and emerged triumphant in many memorable derbies during his time with the team. He represented India 70 times and was also a member of the 2005 SAFF Championship-winning squad.

Notable Mentions

Raman Vijayan, Sushanth Mathew, Anas Edathodika, VP Sathyan, T Abdul Rahman, Papachan Pradeep, Joby Justin