In the national consciousness Goans have often been taken to be a community of cooks, butlers, musicians, secretaries etc; their men have been caricatured in Bollywood films as drunks and females as women of easy virtue. The tiny western state is also stereotyped as a ‘do what you please’ tourist destination populated by happy go lucky people where a ‘susegaad’ (laidback) approach to life rules.
What is not so well known is that despite harbouring a population of barely around 1.5 million, Goa has also produced its fair share of academics, writers, doctors, cardinals, bureaucrats, generals, freedom fighters and achievers in diverse fields. But when it comes down to the field of sports, Goan prowess is well recognized and who’s to dispute that as ‘Goenkars’ have done duty in droves for the nation, state and thousands of clubs and teams in various disciplines all over the world.
It is to highlight Goan achievement in sport and their contribution to the Indian cause that former hockey international Avitus D’Cruz took it upon himself to write a pen portrait book on “Goans in Sport”. It was released last night at the Mumbai Press Club by a panel of eminent Goan sportspersons – Joaquim Carvalho, Eliza Nelson (both former hockey Olympians and India captains) and Alex Vaz, a former FIFA referee and instructor.
A galaxy of famous Goan sportspersons were present on the occasion including legendary athlete Eddie Sequeira and Alex Silveira, hockey internationals Selma D’Silva, Angela D’Souza, Diago D’Souza, Edgar Mascarenhas Jr etc., making it a nostalgic evening as the former greats traded memories of the good old days.
Goans have not only represented India, they have turned out for several countries besides. The long list includes Pakistan, Canada (a recent example being national hockey captain Ken Pereira who also skippered the Pune Strykers in the inaugural World Series Hockey), Australia, USA, Mexico, Kenya,Uganda, Seychelles etc. And in a variety of disciplines too, from the traditional football, hockey and athletics to table tennis, tennis, badminton, squash, cricket etc.
Goa became a part of India only in 1961 after the Indian army moved in and evicted the Portuguese colonizers. But Goans have been representing India from a few decades earlier. In fact, the first ever Goan international, the Karachi-based left outer Peter Paul Fernandes, was part of the Dhyan Chand’s squad at the Berlin Olympic 1936 and later turned out for Pakistan in the 1948 London Olympics. There have also been cases of Goans representing their country in two disciplines, for example, Mary Sequeira & Stephie Sequeira (athletics & hockey) and Anthony Braganza (hockey & football).
One team sport that Goans have not been so prominent in is cricket, though at least two people of Goan origin played Test cricket for India (Dilip Sardesai being the most famous, the other being medium pacer Paras Mhambrey, now assistant coach of Mumbai Indians), two for Pakistan (Walter Mathias, a middle-order batsman who tallied 21 Tests, and medium-pacer Antao D’Souza) while at least eight others trooped out for other non-Test cricketing countries.
What is not so well known that is that the godfather of modern Indian cricket was a Goan, none other than the late Anthony de Mello, founder-secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and later its president, the conceiver of the national championship (Ranji Trophy), the architect of the Cricket Club of India (Brabourne Stadium) and the National Sports Club of India among his many achievements.
Late cricket writer Berry Sarbadhikari remembered de Mello poignantly in his memoirs ‘My World of Cricket’ (1964):
“No one man has done more to put Indian cricket on the world map than he. From the historical point of view, we will always have reasons to be grateful to him for giving Indian cricket a ‘christening’, a shape and a status. He was the chief architect of ‘modern’ Indian cricket…”
Sadly, he is a forgotten man in the flashy portals of the BCCI today.
Be that as it may, it is the sport of hockey and football that is synonymous with the sporting ethos of Goans who have donned the tricolour with distinction besides turning out for the states and clubs in the domestic circuit. The list is long and winding and is inclusive of legends like Neville D’Souza (the only Indian footballer to score a hat-trick in the Olympics), schoolboy hockey international Francis D’Mello, a list of fine hockey goalkeepers (Leo Pinto, Cedric Pereira, Olympio Fernandes etc) and a fair line of India captains (Bruno Coutinho, Climax Lawrence in football and Joaquim Carvalho, Eliza Nelson, Donita D’Mello in hockey).
The author himself was a fringe international but a bloody good centre-half in his time in a great Tata Sports Club team brimming with talents like his own brother Anu D’Cuz, Kenny Fernandes, Allwyn Fernandes, Jani Mohideen, Appiah, Cedric Pereira etc. D’Cruz was always in contention for an Indiaspot, pitted against the likes of Ajitpal Singh and Dr Vece Paes, father of the irrepressible Leander, who gets a lavish mention in this book. As Carvalho quipped at the function, “If Avi had turned out for Punjab Police or Border Security Force, he would have been a regular fixture in the Indian team!”
“I wrote this book so that not only our Goan youth but also the youth of the country can take inspiration from the achievements and hard work of these legends and get inspired to reach greater heights,” D’Cruz said in right earnest.
Hopefully, his effort might strike a few positive chords with the younger generation who have more than enough of distractions to embark on the path of guts and glory.
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