Former footballers recall Kempaiah’s dedication and hard work (Lead)

July 3rd, 2008 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, July 3 (IANS) India’s former soccer stars Thursday paid rich tributes to Mariappa Kempaiah, describing him as a dedicated and hardworking midfielder famous for his never-say-die attitude. Kempaiah, who played in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, passed away in Bangalore Wednesday. He was 75 and is survived by his wife, one son and two daughters.

A visibly crestfallen P.K. Banerjee, who made his international debut alongside Kempaiah in the Asian Quadrangular at Dhaka, 53 years back, said: “I have lost a great friend. He was a thorough gentleman. I never found him lose his cool”.

Recalling their debut match against Sri Lanka at the quadrangular meet, Banerjee said: “We won 4-2. I scored two goals. He also played very well. And he never seemed nervous”.

“From then on, we had a long journey together in the Indian team. I played with him in the Olympic Games in 1956 and 1960. Kempaiah was so dedicated that even when our coach Rahim gave us an off-day, he would run 30 laps,” he said.

“He generally played as right half, but was equally proficient in the central midfield position. He was a tremendous fighter and never got scared,” Banerjee said.

Former Indian skipper Chuni Goswami said Kempiah was a high-class footballer.

“He never got tired. His tackling, blocking and clearing were excellent. It was for these qualities that he had such a long stint in the Indian team,” said Goswami, rated as one of the most charismatic footballer the country has ever produced.

Another former great Sayeed Nayeemuddin said: “I am shocked. Though I never played with him, as a youngster I watched his die-hard attitude with awe. Football was his life. Today’s budding footballers should make players like Kempaiah their role model”.

Kempaiah’s statemate Arumai Nayagam, who was part of the national team that won the gold in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, felt as if he has lost an elder brother.

“It is a great loss for me. I have learnt a lot from him on and off the field. He only took me to Kolkata to play for Mohun Bagan in 1961. Today Indian football lost a great idol,” said Nayagam.

Kempaiah, a competent midfielder, played a crucial role in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where India finished fourth, losing to Bulgaria in the play-off for third place. He was also in the 1960 Rome Olympic squad, where India again finished fourth, India’s best-ever showing at the quadrennial event.

Kempaiah came into prominence while playing for Bangalore Muslims during the 1950s and played for erstwhile Mysore in the national football championship for the Santosh Trophy.

In 1956, he moved to Calcutta and played for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan till 1964 with distinction.

He also played in the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games, where India lost to Indonesia 1-4 in a play-off for third place and was also part of the silver medal winning 1959 Merdeka Cup team.

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