I was like any other kid who grew up in India back in the 90’s – crazy about cricket and idolizing the little master Sachin Tendulkar, but when I was coming off age something my mother told me gave me a new idol. She proudly told me about her first cousin Jimmy George. My curious young mind was thrilled by what my mom shared with me.
Coming back to the present, it has almost been 27 years since Jimmy George tragically passed away in a car accident in Italy, but sadly very few people today know about the man who is often considered as one of the greatest volleyball players of all time. He was the first Indian volleyball player to become professional and played club volleyball in Italy.
With the help of Jimmy George’s brother and my maternal uncle Sebastian George, I was able to collect some good pictures and details about the great.
Jimmy George was born in Peravoor in 1955. He learned to play volleyball from his father, a former university – level player. The George family truly had volleyball in its blood. Jimmy and his seven brothers even played as a team once. Two of them, the eldest Jose and the immediate Jimmy went on to play at the national level. He secured a berth in the Kerala state team at the age of 16 in 1971, and thereafter he represented the state nine times. Jimmy’s youngest brother Robert is the husband and coach of India’s long jump star Anju Bobby George.
Jimmy was also an excellent swimmer. He was the Calicut University champion twice in 1971 and 1972 and won four gold medals. He couldn’t pursue a career in swimming further as he was engaged with volleyball. In 1976, he joined Kerala Police and remained a member until his death.
Playing style and fame
Jimmy had a considerable international fan following during his six seasons in Italy as a professional and there was no surprise why.
When Jimmy played, one could only stop and watch and just wonder how he managed to soar above everyone else. Jimmy had the ability to defy gravity for a fraction longer than most people could. This helped him to place his brilliant smashes better than most people. He had an elegant and stylish jump. Jimmy had such an effect on the game that nearly three decades after his sad death, people still talk about him. His class put him in a league of his own.
In 1979, Jimmy went to the Persian Gulf to play for Abu Dhabi Sports Club. In 1982, he moved to Italy to play in one of the best volleyball leagues in the world. He first joined Coletto Club. From there he moved to System Impiani during 1983-84. He returned to India and then played his last nationals in 1985 at Kanpur. Following this, he went back to Italy to play for Arrital team. In 1987-88 he signed a contract with Eurostyle-Euroslba team at Montchiari in Brescia and it was during that period that he died in a car crash.
Playing for India
Jimmy played for India's national volleyball team in the Asian Games in Tehran (1974), Bangkok (1978) and in Seoul (1986) where India won the bronze medal. He was captain of the Indian team that played at Saudi Arabia in 1985, and led the Indian team to victory in India Gold Cup International Volleyball Tournament at Hyderabad in 1986.
Jimmy won the Arjuna Award at the age of 21, thus becoming the youngest volleyball player to receive the award. He was judged the best player in the Gulf Region while playing for Abu Dhabi Sports Club, from 1979-82.
Early Death and Remembrance
Jimmy died in a car accident in Italy on November 30, 1987, at the age of 32. His son, Joseph George, was born just two months after his death.
To honour and remember Jimmy for his valuable services to the nation, and the game of Volleyball the Jimmy George Indoor Stadium was established in Trivandrum, Kerala. In Italy there is another Jimmy George Indoor Stadium at Montichiary, and also a Jimmy George Road.
Jimmy George Foundation award was given from 1989 to reward the best sportsperson of Kerala. There is a Jimmy George Volleyball tournament in Abu Dhabi and Jimmy George memorial tournament in UK. Other than this, there are numerous other tournaments in his honour along with other memorials in his name at his hometown and his former schools and colleges.
The Man who rose above everyone else
Jimmy represented a golden age of Indian Volleyball. He set the bar high for everyone in the future to reach. Even today Jimmy is remembered by many, but the standard of the game he so wonderfully played and exhibited has plummeted down. Nevertheless someone like Jimmy will never be forgotten and the Volleyball World will forever be grateful for the man from India who rose above everyone else.