Peter Thangaraj, the last man in defence in India’s finest moment in football, is no more. The goalkeeper of the 1962 Asian Games gold medal winning team died following a heart attack at Bokaro General Hospital on Monday.
Thangaraj was 72. He is survived by wife Alphoncia, daughters Helen, Sheela and Shiba, son Arun, three granddaughters and two grandsons. He was admitted to the hospital after complaining of chest pain in the evening and succumbed to a massive heart attack at around 11.30 pm.
Family members informed that Thangaraj’s body would be brought home on Wednesday morning before being taken to the City Church at around noon for rituals. He would be buried later in the afternoon.
The news of his death took the country’s football fraternity by shock. “He’s one of the finest goalkeepers the country has produced,” said Chuni Goswami, captain of the 1962 Asian Games team. “It’s sad to lose a mainstay of our team.” His teammate in that side, Arun Ghosh, said Thangaraj would also be remembered for his pleasant nature.
“No one ever saw him grumbling, about anything. He was very helpful to younger players, who obeyed him as their guardian,” he recalled.
After making his mark playing for Services in the Santosh Trophy in 1954, Thangaraj was included in the Indian team for the Melbourne Olympic Games two years later. He also represented the country in the Rome Olympics in 1960.
His towering performances under the bar soon brought him to Kolkata, where he represented all three top teams — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting — with distinction. He was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1967.
After hanging his boots, he joined Bokaro Steel Plant as Sports Officer and was instrumental in launching the SAIL Football Academy. Having retired from the post in 1995, Thangaraj had kept himself busy coaching local boys.
The flag at East Bengal, who adjudged him their Player of the Millennium, was kept at half mast. A minute’s silence was observed before Tuesday’s I-League match between United SC and Vasco at Yuba Bharati Krirangan.