The shot-stopper reflects on his first season with Gokulam Kerala, his idol and the man who changed his life.

When the I-League season was half past its journey, many wrote off the presence of Gokulam Kerala. The Kerala-based team, whose bid was accepted at the eleventh hour, had a first half of the season full of disappointments.

Halfway through the journey, Gokulam Kerala began proving who they were and why they were in the league. After revamping their squad in January, they turned out to be the ‘giant killers’, as they defeated Mohun Bagan, Minerva Punjab and East Bengal in consecutive matches.

Their man in between the sticks, Bilal Khan had an incredible season with the Kerala outfit. The former Churchill Brother shot-stopper stood as an impenetrable wall for Gokulam. Speaking exclusively to Khel Now, Bilal Khan talked about Indian football, his journey with Gokulam Kerala and moreover, his opinion on Kerala Blasters Vs Gokulam Kerala, a derby that could take India by storm in near-future. Excerpts

Q1: When did you start playing football? Who inspired you to take it up as a profession?

A- I started playing football when I was 13. I was inspired by our own local club. I always watched them play and one day, their goalkeeper told me to join, since I was tall.

Q2: You have experience playing with many clubs. Where did you enjoy your time most?

A- I enjoyed when I was at Churchill Brothers. That club feels like our home. Gokulam has also been an enjoyable journey.

Q3: After the slow start, Gokulam did well to bounce back. What were the reasons for the seachange visible in the team’s results?

A- Yes, we started badly only because most players were playing in the I-League for the first time. So, we didn’t know how to play at that level, but we never lost by big margins.  We lost the games 1-0 and we didn’t have many foreigners in the first half. After the arrival of Henry, Musa, Ajmi, we started getting results.

Under Bino George’s coaching, Bilal has enjoyed steady game-time under the bars for Gokulam Kerala

Q4: How’s Bino George as a coach?

A- Bino George is a very good coach. The most important thing is, he has the power to face all critics and he never let’s down his players in the media after losing. For me, he is the only man, who changed my life.  Because of him, nowadays, I’m receiving calls from some clubs.

Q5:  Kerala Blasters Vs Gokulam Kerala, a derby that Kerala anxiously awaits? What do you expect from the game?

A: No question about that. All know, when these two teams will face each other, that day will tell the whole story. Surely, it is going to be fiery.

Q6: Expectations for the Super Cup?

A- To be honest, our first expectation was to qualify for the Cup. Now, we will take it match-by-match. We’re targetting at least the semis.

Q7: You face Bengaluru FC, who had a tremendous season, in the first match. How’re you looking forward to the match?

A- They are a good side and strong in all areas. But, we’ll give our 200 percent. We’re ready.

Q8: Despite having a moderate performance this season, fans were with the team throughout. Thoughts about them?

A- Yes, the fans play a vital role for the clubs. We’re lucky to have fans called GKFC Battalia, who’re always with us in good and bad times. Most importantly, our fans understand the game, that’s why they’re with us.

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Q9: Bino George is going to step down from the head coach’s role after the Super Cup. Now, Spaniard Fernando will take the helm. Tell us something about the new coach.

A- The new coach has arrived. But, Bino George is still in-charge of the team. The Spanish coach will take charge from next season. So, we’ve to wait until then.

Q10: You had a good season at Gokulam. You did very well in a few games. Looking back, how do you analyze your performance?

A: I had a dream season. I didn’t expect that I could play 12 games continuously. I played 13 games. For me, only the last game I lost some focus. You can say, maybe because of too much tiredness and also having an injury. Overall, my performance was good.

Q11: Who’s your idol?

A: My idol is Arindam Bhattacharya.

Q12: Your message for the kids, who love football and would like to take it up as a profession?

A: For the kids born after 2000, they have a great future. Now, kids who love to play football can take it up as a profession. Now the money is also coming in, so they can lead a good life.