That goal against Peru!

M. SRINATH

The suffix, ‘Olympian’ still means a lot to footballer S. Simon Sundararaj, though nearly half-a-century has passed since he represented India at the 1960 Rome Olympics. The tag reminds Simon of the sweat, sacrifice and hard work he had to put in to reach that level. Here, he shares with us the ups and downs in his career.

Donning the national colours and that too in the Olympics was the most prestigious moment of my career. It was never easy to find a place in the Indian football side and I had to compete with some of the best players to win a berth. Consistent performances helped my cause.

Only one country from Asia qualified for the Olympics then. I scored three goals during the Asian qualifiers and contributed my bit towards achieving our aim of making it to the Olympics.

I had a great fascination for striking the target. The applause and cheers one gets from fans is something great. But as a winger, I relished setting up goal-scoring opportunities as well. If you ask me to pick the best of my goals, it is certainly the one I scored against Peru in our final group match at Rome. After beating a defender I scored from a 30-yard shot. Incidentally, it is the last goal, thus far, scored by an Indian at the Olympics.

Playing at the Olympics was a dream come true; ironically, it also led to my resignation from Southern Railway. I had to attend two conditioning camps, one before playing the qualifying rounds and the other before the quadrennial event. When I returned after the Olympics, I was told that I would not get pay for four-and-a-half months. Frustrated to the core, I had no other option but to quit.

In those days, I learnt the nuances of the game by watching seniors play. It took nearly a year and a half for me to master a goal scoring technique — the corner kick, which curls into the far post deceiving the players and goalkeeper. I scored a goal in similar fashion during an all-India tournament at Calicut. Many years later, when I visited Calicut, a fan recognised me and recalled the goal. I was surprised, but felt great.

As an NIS-qualified coach, I saw through Kerala’s maiden triumph in the Santosh Trophy in 1973. The victory still lingers in my memory.

While playing in the Madras United Club tournament, I suffered a cartilage tear. That injury cost me a place in the Indian football team for the 1962 Asian Games at Jakarta. It was a big disappointment, but I was happy that the Indian team went on to win gold.

I had to sacrifice a lot for reaching the Olympic-level. Recognition from fans kept me going. But then awards from the Government have eluded me during my playing days and even now. However, I had never been after awards; I played the game for the sheer love of it.

As told to G. Prasad