‘I have been very lucky'

“Playing for India was among my best moments. I am a very patriotic person by nature and donning the National colours meant a lot to me.”

My first chance to play for my state, Andhra Pradesh, came in 1976 in the B. C. Roy Trophy, and to my delight, we won the title defeating Bengal 1-0 in the final. I was fortunate to score the all-important goal. (However, in the Santosh Trophy later, a star-studded Bengal defeated Andhra Pradesh in the semifinals.)

I was selected to the Indian team for the Asian Youth Championship in 1977. I was then playing for Railways, but my brother John, who was already playing for East Bengal, advised me to shift to Calcutta (now Kolkata) for that is where every footballer's career blossoms. I took his advice and that proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life.

That was in 1978 and it proved to be the turning point in my career. The club I first played for was Mohammedan Sporting. It was a great team, packed with very talented players. There was stiff competition for the slots and I am happy to say that I was able to do well even under tremendous pressure.

In 1981 and 1982 I played for East Bengal but returned to Sporting in 1983. From 1984 to 1990, I played for Mohun Bagan. I had a unique record —that of leading all the three big clubs in Calcutta during my career.

That was the period when there was a lot of football activity throughout the country. We played in many National-level tournaments such as the Durand Cup, Rovers Cup and other invitational tournaments besides the Santosh Trophy. I went on to play for Bengal under Prasun Banerjee's captaincy.

In those days, getting a place in the Bengal squad was very difficult. Bengal was the best team in the country and some said it was stronger than even the National side. It feels great that I was a key member of the Bengal team in those days.

As far as my international career was concerned, I played for India in several tournaments and I led the country in the President's Cup in Dhaka in 1983. We beat some top Asian teams but lost in the semifinals to a team from the UK.

Victor Amalraj with students of the St. Andrews School, Bowen Pally, in Secunderabad.-

In 1980 I had joined the FCI and that too was a good development in my life. FCI is an organisation that believes in encouraging sports and players in various disciplines. It employs some well known internationals such as weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, athlete Shiny Wilson and former hockey star Thoiba Singh. I too found a helpful and encouraging ambience wherein I could develop my career.

What I cherish the most is playing against Sao Paulo of Brazil in 1983. My game came in for high praise from the Sao Paulo coach.

Playing against the top-ranked Romanian team in the Nehru Gold Cup was also one of my great moments. That team included four or five World Cup players.

In another Nehru Cup tournament we played against an Argentinian side that had Jorge Burruchaga and Pumpido Neri and was coached by Carlos Bilardo. And then, in another Nehru Cup match we drew against the Netherlands.

Playing for India was among my best moments. I am a very patriotic person by nature and donning the National colours and meeting the Prime Minister and the President meant a lot to me.

I did not have many disappointing moments in my career. In that way I was very lucky. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of my career was when I got injured and could not play in the Delhi Asian Games in 1982. I suffered an ankle injury at the National camp just one week before the tournament was to begin and lost my place in the side.

* * * A calm and confident player

Victor Amalraj took up football when he was a schoolboy and began playing for the Secunderabad-based club, Bolarum Sporting, in the Senior Division Rahim League in Hyderabad in 1974-75.

Incidentally, the locality of Bolarum is famous for producing some of India's greatest football players such as A. Patrick, K. P. Dhanraj, D. Kannan, Peter Thangaraj, Tulasidas Balaram and John Victor to name a few. They were Amalraj's illustrious predecessors, and he, as a young boy, drew inspiration from them.

Later, Amalraj played for Secunderabad Blues and then State Bank of Hyderabad thereby getting wide ranging experience of playing under different coaches and being a part of teams using varying tactics. And most importantly, he also developed the knack of getting along with different teammates and working well with them on the field.

These qualities helped him make rapid progress. Amalraj's game was quite steady and composed. Precise passing and powerful shooting were his strengths. And he had the knack of being at the right spot at the right time. He never played rough. Amalraj getting a yellow card was very rare, and a red card was unheard of. But despite his low-key style, he was extremely effective in the midfield.

His calm confidence inspired his team and he earned praise from his fellow players as well as coaches for his dedication and discipline.

As told to Abhijit Sen Gupta