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Second homecoming for Class of ’56

It took 53 years for the Indian government to acknowledge the country’s greatest footballing moment—making the last four at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Written by Saikat Sarkar | New Delhi |
February 24, 2009 11:07:06 pm

53 years after their heroics at the Melbourne Olympics,football veterans relive past glory

It took 53 years for the Indian government to acknowledge the country’s greatest footballing moment—making the last four at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. At a felicitation function here on Monday,however,the bruises seem to have given way to wrinkled smiles with sips of water between tell-tale stories and posing for the media on request.

Despite age catching up with the heroes of yore,the memories from more than half a century back are sharp as ever,and none of the queries regarding November 24-December 5,1956 went unanswered by the group of 70-year old Olympic veterans. Two of the surviving members — Krishna Pal and Tulsidas Balaram — failed to show up for the felicitation.

PK Banerjee remembered his injuries — “I remained unconscious for nine hours after an injury to my head during our match against Australia. It hit back with a cerebral attack last year” — and the lessons of civility — “We were littering away on the streets in Melbourne. On looking back,I saw a group of girls picking up the papers. This was quite a lesson,” Banerjee added.

Team mate Nikhil Nandy talked about the game,speaking of India’s 4-2 victory over the hosts,and then the 7-1 thrashing that never made it to the official charts. “There was a lot of chatter from the Australian team after our 4-2 victory in the quarter-finals. They questioned our ability and said we just managed to win on that particular day,inviting us for a re-match against the same team on our way back. In Sydney,we silenced them with a 7-1 victory,” remembered Nandy.

Samar Banerjee,the skipper,had some extra,unexpected duties ahead of the very first tie,which,as it turned out,was a smash hit. “Rahim (coach) fell sick and had to be hospitalised soon after our arrival in Australia. I had to coach the team before our first match,which we won,” he said.

Ahmed Hussain found himself on slippery pitch in brand-new boots — unlike the previous Olympics where the Indian team turned up bare-foot,but equally alien to the conditions nevertheless. “We had always played 60-minute matches in India. Boots too were only introduced in 1953. Running for 90 minutes with those heavy boots on soft Australian grounds was demanding.

“Against Yugoslavia in the semi-finals,there were complaints of an ache here,a cut there as we struggled to maintain the lead till the 60th minute. We even thought that reaching the semi-finals in itself was great. In the next 15-20 minutes,they banged in 3-4 goals,” rued Hussain.

Mohammad Zulfikaruddin’s face creased with laughter recalling Syed Abdul Salam shying away from the dressing room after conceding an own goal even as Subramaniam Narayan missed departed team mate and the hat-trick hero Neville D’Souza. “D’Souza’s three goals against Australia are unforgettable. Especially the one when he dodged two defenders before beating the goalkeeper. He would appear harmless to the opponents at the edge of the box,but once he had possession,he was the sharpest of strikers,” Narayan said.

Felicitated footballers: Samar Banerjee,Pradip Kumar Banerjee,SS Narayan,Nikhil Nandy,Mohammad Zulfikaruddin,Ahmed Hussain and Syed Abdul Salam.

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