Forgotten Hero: When Neville D'Souza nearly won India an Olympic medal in football
"If you bring silver, people will forget you one day or another but if you win Gold then you will set a precedent which will be told again and again ," the dialogue from the Bollywood movie 'Dangal' resonates an obvious truth that is often overlooked in the life of an athlete. Society often forgets the hero that falls short of success, even if it's by a margin of a second. We have such a fair share of talents, who proved their might, yet, lost and passed over in time. Neville D'souza is one such talent.
Neville D’souza and his Indian football team did something that India couldn't repeat, reaching the semifinal of an Olympics. It was not a dream, it was once a reality, a story that should be celebrated in the history of India at the Olympics.
It has been almost 70 years since India squandered the golden opportunity to play in a FIFA World Cup. We still talk about it, yet, many people don't know anything about India's triumph in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Neither do they know about the Goan dribbler who mesmerized, and engraved himself into the history books of the Olympics.
Neville D'souza, a Goan-born striker, is the first and the only Asian player to score a hat trick in an Olympics event. His record still stands today. He managed this extraordinary feat in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in which India reached the semifinal berth in football. D’souza jointly capped the scoring chart by netting four goals, including a hat-trick against Australia in the quarter-final. It is also worth remembering that the last time India played football in Olympics, was way back in 1960. However, it was the 1956 Olympics that showcased the quality and talent the country could produce.
But the journey wasn't easy for India. After defeating Australia 4-2 in the quarters, the game was marred with disagreement after the host nation claimed the match was a "fluke". However, Neville exhibited a splendid performance by the means of scoring a hattrick in the 9th, 33rd, and 50th minutes for India.
“When you stood up to him inside the box, you couldn’t work out a thing. You feel fascinated and he would win over you with the easiest of shots.”, former India Goalkeeper, and Olympian Peter Thangaraj once said in an interview.
After defeating the hosts in the quarters, D'souza and his men had to face Yugoslavia, a very serious adversary. After going ahead through D'Souza, India eventually had to accept the defeat with a final score of 4-1. Even though, they still had the chance to win bronze, if they had defeated Bulgaria. However, India lost 3-0 to the Bulgarian side to be satisfied with a fourth-place finish. It was the closest, India had ever reached to a medal in football at the Olympics in its entire history of the game.
Neville retired in 1963, focused on coaching, and became a member of the selection panel of AIFF. This unsung hero of Indian football history passed away in 1980 at the early age of 48, survived by his wife, and children.
His contributions to the game were largely overshadowed by the lack of interest given to the sport by the government. The Government of Goa finally honored the legend in 1990, only 10 years after his death.
SS Narayan and T. Abdul Rahman were the two Malayalee presence in the 1956 Olympics. SS Narayan also called 'Babu' Narayan played as the goalkeeper, and represented India in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, witnessing and being part of the historic team which continued to make the country proud on foreign shores in years to come.
Narayanan's memory is so sharp, and in his words, it was the best Indian side he had seen the country had ever produced. And, Melbourne was the peak of India's dominance, what they achieved that time can unlikely be repeated.
"To get a chance to represent your country in the sport you love, especially in an event like Olympics, where the best players from all over the world arrive. It is a very rare opportunity, and you have to be lucky as well as to deserving to get it” S.S.Narayan stated.
SS Narayan now resides with his son in Mumbai. His son Murali echoed his father's memories of Neville D'souza and their epic journey into the semifinals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics." My father is one of the very few people alive today who could narrate the story. The achievement he made is something that should be not forgotten", he said. "Papa often talks about how well they received the ovation at the dressing room after they lost to Yugoslavia. FIFA president Sir Stanley Ross was so impressed with the way India played that he came to the dressing room to congratulate the team," Murali added.