In a country like India where the word sports has almost become synonymous to Cricket, songs about Indian football legends are often left unsung. Participation in Olympic football has become a daydream in the recent years, and 1960 was the last time when the “Blue Tigers” managed to qualify in Olympic Games. Many football experts consider that it was 1956 Melbourne Games when Indian football reached their pinnacle of success. Despite their defeat against Yugoslavia and Bulgaria which drowned their hope of bagging a medal; the Games brought the Indian striker, Neville Stephen D’ Souza into limelight. He jointly topped the goal-scoring tally by scoring 4 goals which included a brilliant hat-trick scored against the hosts in the quarter final match.
Early years- chances of being a double international
Neville D’ Souza was born in Assagao, a small village in Goa (1st January, 1932). In his early years, he showed excellence in Hockey, representing for St. Xavier’s High School and St. Xavier’s College and then Tata’s. He made a great achievement when he lifted the prestigious Beighton Cup from Kolkata in his very first year. He toured East Africa in 1952 for Tata’s, scored 34 goals in only 17 matches and then went on representing Bombay in the national Hockey team till 1955. But, his first love was football, and he devoted himself in it soon, making an important switch in his career.
The birth of his football career was in the Goan Sports club, where he joined before moving on to Tata’s. 1954 was the year when he first received international acknowledgement while playing in the Asian quadrangular tournament. Next year, he led Maharashtra football team to the Santosh Trophy. Later he made some vital contributions for the Caltex team when they became the first civilian side from Bombay to win the Rovers Cup in 1958.
1956 Melbourne Olympic
Following political disarray throughout the World, several teams withdrew their names and India were qualified straight to the quarters. In this match against Australia on December 1, 1956, Neville exhibited an eye-pleasing performance striking thrice in 9th, 33rd, 50th minutes to crush the host in an unexpected fashion. This hat trick is the sole one scored by any Indian in Olympic football and also, the first one by an Asian footballer. The losing side was so bewildered that they claimed the victory as a “fluke” and demanded a rematch. India accepted the challenge; Neville scored a double as India edged over its rivals. But, in the semi final, Yugoslavia played superb as the favorites, got their deserved 4-1 victory and Neville impressed again to score the only Indian goal. Later, a 3-0 defeat against Bulgaria brought the curtain down on India’s journey.
Time goes away
Neville retired from his colorful career in 1963, focused into coaching and became a member of the selection panel of AIFF. This football hero passed away only at an age of 48. Peter Thangaraj once said about him that when someone faced Neville inside the box, he could simply do nothing to stop him. Neville had the power to perplex the goalkeeper and then beat him with the simplest of shots. His brother Derryck, who played as a right winger with Neville in Caltex had told that everything he learned in football was due to Neville, who spent a long time with his brother to train him properly. D’Souza married Lyra and they had a son named Nigel and two daughters Liesel and Fleurel. Lyra once expressed her grief in an interview about Maharashtra Government who practically did nothing for the family of his legend. She also claimed that the D’ Souza family always lacked proper financial support. Unfortunately, in India, this is just a recurring fact for most of the sportspersons’ families.
It is almost 35 years since Neville D’ Souza died, but the football authority is nowhere concerned in saving his memories. If we do not let the majority of our population know about our glorious past, how can we expect that the common people of India will ever be interested in Indian football?