My earliest recollection of football was when I would go to watch matches in the Thrissur Municipal Corporation Stadium. We lived in a thatched hut very close to the stadium and my father, Mani, who was football crazy, would take me to the games. Many know the story about how I used to sell soda in the stadium for a couple of years. I did it to make some bucks (about fifty) and also to watch the matches for free. My parents were Dalit daily wage earners, my father worked in a small hotel called Sree Krishna Bhavan and my mother, Kochammu, would help him out. She would also collect old bottles, newspapers and tins to sell in the market. I have known hunger and poverty during my childhood days.
I can’t recollect the name of the school I went to before I joined the Church Mission Society High School in Thrissur in class five. Though I attended class, I promptly failed five times in class five. My classmates ascended to class ten while I was still there. Every year, my new classmates insisted on calling me Vijayan chetta (elder brother) and I would tell them that’s not required. I was really bad in studies and always late for class. I would go for practice to the municipal stadium at six in the morning and then walk into class at around ten. My class teacher would ask me why I was late and I would give the same lame excuse that there was no food in the house and my mother only cooked the rice by 10 am. Sometimes, she would cane me for not studying. Nevertheless, I would walk back to the stadium during lunch break, to go back to playing. I was obsessed with the game. Those days I didn’t even have boots. I was on the school team that went to Kashmir to play a tournament. At the time, my Hindi teacher, who always dressed in white pants and white shirt, taught me a few sentences in Hindi. He also warned me never to ask for “chor” (rice in Malayalam and thief in Hindi) and advised me to ask for “chaval” instead. Years later, he saw a television interview of mine where I conversed in Hindi and he called me to ask where I learnt it. I had quit school in class 8.