Olympian Thangaraj, towering figure between goalposts, dies (Lead)

November 25th, 2008 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 25 (IANS) A glorious chapter in Indian football ended as legendary goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj, nicknamed “Lampost” for his towering height, passed away Monday night in Bokaro following a massive heart attack. He was 74 and is survived by wife, a son and three daughters.”Monday morning he complained of chest pain and we got him admitted in the Bokaro General Hospital. By night the pain became accute and he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away at 11.30pm,” Helen, Thangaraj’s daughter, told IANS Tuesday.

Helen said Thangaraj was fine and went to the academy even Sunday.

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 runners-up in the 1964 Asia Cup in Tel Aviv.

Thangaraj also played in the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. India finished fourth in Melbourne, which remained 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 60s.

But Thangaraj will always be remembered as India’s greatest goalkeeper. His international career spanned 1955-67, the longest span ever by an Indian goalkeeper.

What made him an excellent goalkeeper was his command in the air and his long hands with which he safely plucked crosses from both the flanks. He was also a crowd puller with his long throws which often landed in the centre of the field and a booming kick that sailed into the opponents’ box that made the stands roar in delight.

But his weakness remained the ground shot and many an opponent, particularly the short and nimble-footed Gorkha Brigade team of the sixties and seventies, often got the better of him with deft turf-scorching kicks that the lanky Thangaraj was a trifle slow to dive and stop.

Thangaraj was born in Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh, but settled in Bokaro as an advisor with the Bokaro Steel Plant Football Academy.

He hailed from the Trimulgherry-Cantonment area in Secunderabad, which produced other Olympians like K.P. Dhanaraj, T. Balaram and D. Kannan.

He started his career as a centre forward for local club Praga Tools and also played for other Hyderabad clubs, Bolaram, Morning Star and Friends Union in Secunderabad.

In 1953, he joined Madras Regimental Centre (MRC) and excelled as a goalkeeper and guided the team to two Durand Cup titles in 1955 and 1958.

In 1960 he quit Army and joined Railways and played in the Calcutta league. He made his debut in the Kolkata Maidan with Mohammedan Sporting in 1961 and two years later he joined Mohun Bagan. Then from 1965-71 he played for East Bengal, captaining them in 1969, and became one of the most well recognised football players of his time.

He is also the only player to have led two different teams to Santosh Trophy triumph — Services (1960) and Railways (1967).

Thangaraj made his international debut in the 1955 Quadrangular tournament in Dhaka as second choice to Sanat Seth. But soon emerged as the number one goalkeeper for the country.

Thangaraj was crucial behind the team’s success in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The high point of his career was however the 1962 Asian Games gold in Jakarta.

When the Indian team landed in Jakarta, Thangaraj was down with flu and missed all the group matches. But in the final, coach S.A. Rahim gambled with Thangaraj in the goal as he felt the goalkeeper’s imposing height would be a big advantage against the nimble-footed South Koreans. India went on to win 2-1 in front a hostile Jakarta crowd.

He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1967, but never got any form of recognition for his outstanding services to Indian football. An Olympic teammate of his had a dig at players who received state honours when they are nowhere near towering Thangaraj’s standing.

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