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Government decides to fete 1956 Olympics football heroes

sports Updated: Feb 22, 2009 23:36 IST
Gordon D’Costa

Better late than never. What else can you say about the the Indian Government’s decision to felicitate the surviving members of the 1956 Olympic football team. One which was the first from Asia to make it to the semi-finals of the quadrennial showpiece.

Nine Olympians of the 18-member team which finished fourth in Melbourne will be honoured by Sports Minister Dr M S Gill at a function at the Islamic Cultural Cerntre in New Delhi on Monday afternoon.

One wonders what took the government so long to recognize the achievements of these stalwarts.

The Joint Secretary in the Sports Ministry, I. Srinivas, said that since football has been adopted as one of the sports by them, they decided to honour the surviving members of the 1956 team.

“The 1956 Olympics football team was at its peak and they performed well to finish fourth in the quadrennial event. And since football has now been adopted by the Ministry, we felt that by felicitating the 1956 Olympian it would be an inspiration for the younger generation,” said Srnivas.

“It’s just a small gesture to remember them for their performance,” he said.

The only surviving member from Mumbai, S S (Babu) Narayran, was not too pleased when he was informed about the Government’s decision. “It’s too late. What’s the use of acknowledging are achievements now,” he questioned. “Many of my teammates at the 1956 Olympics suffered and died penniless.”

Narayan added: “At least the Indian Government has decided to honour us. But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has not even bothered to do anything for us..

“During FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s visit to Kolkata in 2007 it could have been and ideal opportunity for the AIFF to honours us.”

Babu said that when he was invited for the function in Kolkata he was informed to make his own arrangements for travel and stay. “But after no support came from the state and local association I informed AIFF that I would skip the event. Only after that did they (AIFF) make the necessary arrangements for me to attend the event,” he stated.

On his memories from the Melbourne Games, Babu pointed out Neville DeSouza’s hattrick in out 4-2 win against Australia in the quarter-finals. He also talked about their 1-4 loss to Yugoslavia in the semi-final. Neville with a brilliant effort got us in front in the 65th minute and a little later was unlucky to watch his lob over and advanced goalkeeper bounce over.

“The then FIFA president Sir Stanley Ross was so impressed with the way we played that he came to our dressing room to congratulate us. He said he was not aware that we could play good football at the top level,” said Babu.

The nine surviving stalwarts

(Samar) Badru Banerjee (captain), P.K. Banerjee, Tulsidas Balram, K.C. Paul, S. Nandy, Zulfikar, Ahmed Hussain, M.S. Salam and S. S. Narayan.