Country’s football greats salute the towering Thangaraj

November 25th, 2008 - 9:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Nov 25 (IANS) Peter Thangaraj was the country’s greatest ever goalkeeper and a perfect teamman who never lost his composure on or off the field - his Indian team mates said Tuesday, mourning his death.The 74-year-old Thangaraj passed away Monday night in Bokaro following a massive heart attack. He is survived by wife, a son and three daughters.

Samar (Badru) Banerjee, who led India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, said Thangaraj’s presence under the bar gave lot of confidence to his teammates.

“He was always very serious, and sincere in practice sessions. Opponent strikers were awed by his six and half feet frame,” Banerjee told IANS, as he recalled Thangaraj’s display in at Melbourne, where India finished fourth.

Banerjee described Thangaraj as a gutsy player, who never flinched even when the going got tough.

“He epitomised modern football’s concept of the goalkeeper being the first man in attack with his long volleys that landed deep inside the opponent penalty box. His half round throws would also always fall deep inside the rival territory,” he said.

Going down memory lane, Banerjee said Thangaraj’s taciturn face hid a fun-loving soul.”He would cause embarrassment to others by hiding their belongings. He would jocularly call me captain Banerjee”.

“I remember he fell sick during the long two-night flight to Melbourne. The entire team attended to him to help him recover fast. Everybody loved him. He had no enemies”, he said.

For Banerjee, down with grief, Thangaraj’s death was the “black day for Indian football”.

Chuni Goswami, captain of the 1962 Asian Games gold medal winning team, said: “Thangaraj played a great part in our success. He was a great teamman. He had a great physique, and a great personality under the bar. Be it on the ground or outside, he always helped his teamamtes”.

Goswami, one of India’s all-time greats, said Thangaraj was very strong in the air. “His ability to come out of his charge at the right time and grip corners made him stand out from other goalkeepers. Opponents felt cowed down by his great presence in the penalty box.”

Goswami recalled that he used to call Thangaraj uncle. “It was because he was senior to me in age and always looked serious”.

“I will be missing him,” Goswami said.

Olympian S. Hakeem, who played with Thangaraj in the 1960 Olympics, felt that the goalkeeper never got his due.

“He was given an Arjuna Award while a young footballer who was nowhere near to his stature was awarded with Padmashree. He was very close to my father Raheem saab. One day during the 1960 Rome Olympics my father jokingly challenged whether the team can do without a goalkeeper,” Hakeem recalled.

Former Indian defender Santo Mitra called Thangaraj India’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

“No other goalkeeper in the country can come even close to him in comparison. I never saw him get angry. He never charged at any opponent player in a fit of rage,” said Mitra. who was Thangaraj’s teammate in East Bengal for seven years.

“His anticipation was exemplary. His height made it seem as if there was a wall before the goal. And most of the time the opponent forwards would deposit the ball in his hands in one-to-one situations,” he added.

Another celebrated Indian custodian Tarun Bose said Thangaraj’s height, anticipation and long shots could be the envy of any goalkeeper. “But don’t ask me to analyse his game any further. I cannot. It is beyond me. He was in a class of his own.”

Thangaraj belonged to the golden era of India and Hyderabad football and was part of the team that won gold in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta and was the runner-up in the 1964 Asia Cup in Tel Aviv.

Thangaraj played in the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. India finished fourth in Melbourne, which remains Indian football’s best performance at the Olympics to date.

He was among only four Indians to play two Olympics and three Asian Games. The others were Hyderabad’s Sheikh Azizuddin and Noor Mohammed and P.K. Banerjee of Bengal. Thangaraj also played for the Asian All Stars team twice in the 1960s.

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