“I may have been destined for this,” feels Brahmanand on being honoured with Padma Shri award

SR Suryanarayan




Justice delayed is justice denied is a well known legal maxim. But then recognition delayed is certainly not recognition denied! Today we have the brightest example of Brahmanand Sankhwalkar, one of the finest goalkeepers Indian football has produced, who finds his name in the list of this years Padma Shri awards. A year ago, we did say this in the case of renowned O M Nambiar, the celebrated coach of the athletics legend P T Usha. Delayed, but both of them found the deserving recognition coming their way. It was way back in 1995 that Brahmanand, as all football-lovers knew him, hung up his football shoes after an illustrious career with Salgaocar mainly and the India team, which he captained too, together with stretching to 25 years. Few goalkeepers in the country had earned the kind of plaudits that he did with his ability to keep the goal-area clean with his alacrity, reach and anticipation. In 1997 he was honoured with the Arjuna Award, and the man did not fade away.

Photo: Chandrakumar B
Photo: Chandrakumar B

Committed to giving back to the sport that made him what he was, Brahmanand worked his way to the next phase of his career _ coaching. The AFC licenses were earned, and he became the goalkeeping coach for the country from 1997 to 2005. It was this continuity that kept him on the radar so to say, and the latest recognition had to be this factor as well for his services to Indian football. “I think that has to be one reason, but somehow I felt I may have been destined for this," said Brahmanand from his Goa home when I called him up with congratulatory greetings! As one who had done a lot of football coverages in the 80s in Kerala and elsewhere in the country, it was always a delight to know him, see his acts on the field and watch the approbation he regularly pockets for his good work under the bar. And Kerala football-lovers too had a quota of absorbing his excellence when he came with the Salgaocar FC for the tournaments that were like a festival in the state in those times.

Brahmanand Sankhwalkar with Goa Team for Santosh Trophy
Brahmanand Sankhwalkar with Goa Team for Santosh Trophy

Perhaps one of his best shows came in the 1988 Sait Nagjee tournament in Kozhikode, where his splendid goalkeeping was a key factor in Salgaocar winning the final beating Mohammedan Sporting, one of the glamour teams from Kolkata. Brahmanand was the toast of that vast gathering that night, and the great man has not forgotten that moment one bit! “Kerala has always amazed me with its football passion. The crowd, the support and the involvement made it special to perform,” he recollected even as he narrated his latest experience visiting the state. “It was in 2013. The Santosh trophy event was on in Kochi, and since I was there, I was keen to watch the final (Services v Kerala) at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. My daughter and I had gone to the packed stadium. There was hardly a way to enter the facility since such was the throng outside. Even as we were walking here and there aimlessly, someone recognised me and came running to me calling out my name. He found a way to guide me in and got us seated. Then things happened. I M Vijayan found me out, and, before long, we were in the VIP enclosure. Everything happened because a football lover recognised me,” Brahmanand seemed delighted as he narrated.

Brahmanand in action | https://twitter.com/IndianFootball

Whatever said, players like Brahmanand and all those who had earned a name in his time owe a lot to the football-loving public for their stature. Talent and skills apart it is the public acceptance that makes a player a hero, gives him an image and more. Brahmanand had been greatly fortunate that his big moments left a lasting impression. Like his lion-hearted display in the 1983 Santosh trophy in Kolkata where he helped Goa to share the trophy with Bengal, something that seemed an impossible proposition at one point in time! For, such as Bengal's supremacy in the national championship. Then again in the 1984 Santosh trophy in Chennai, his goalkeeping skills ensured he did not let in even a single goal in the entire tournament, helping in the process Goa's triumph over Punjab in the final! These are two special chapters in the history of Indian football. What is more, in Goa his good work found his way into school textbooks too!

Years have gone by and Brahmanand laments the current scenario where tournaments have vanished and as he put it, opportunities had diminished for the players' skill-exposure, match experience and to sharpen their competitive spirits As he said, it was all fine for players to get trained at camps and academies but the action on the field cannot be belittled. The I-league and the ISL are all fine but there have to be more matches. The famed goalkeeper was clear that the national team needs to play more, against other Asian teams through friendlies and other programmes. “We have to aim to come into the top ten in Asia first,” was his response when any talk of India's chances of participation in the world cup came up.

Having said that Brahmanand, the coach has only good words for the modern-day players. Physically they have improved, technically too, he said. He spoke highly of current India's top goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and his abilities. For somebody who as a schoolboy was reluctant to take to football, it has been a great journey that continues. As the chairman of the Goa Football Development Council now, his hands are full but finds time to reminisce and also savour the reality of being the first Goan sportsperson, let alone a footballer to earn a Padma Shri recognition!

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