Players from yesteryear return to football’s heyday

The crowd, around 15,000-strong, erupted in joy

Chennai: It was the year 1982. Tamil Nadu was playing a visiting team from Malaysia in the semi final of the Vittal trophy at the Chennai corporation stadium, where the present Jawaharlal Nehru stadium stands.

TN’s striker P. Nageshwara Rao, better known as Nagesh, scored a brilliant volley to net the winning goal against the Malaysians. The crowd, around 15,000-strong, erupted in joy.

But the players had their hearts in their mouths for a moment. “The galleries were makeshift wooden stands and we were worried if they could withstand the crowd’s celebration,” A. Satyanarayanan, who played in that match, says.

Both Satyanarayanan and Nagesh are 61 now. They still play together every day at the corporation stadium in Royapuram with their ‘Star Masters’ teammates, a veteran’s football team that they formed two years ago.

Nagesh was a player who had a fan following from neighbouring Kerala to Malaysia in his heyday. Yesteryear film stars, such as late comedian Nagesh and late actor R.Muthuraman, were among his fans and would come to see him play.

Satyanarayanan still has a black-and-white photograph of himself and Nagesh, taken with an astrologer, during their visits to Kerala. Such was the fan base of Nagesh that the astrologer framed the picture at his residence to attract customers, he says.

“Those were the days when we played in the unofficial seven-a-game tournaments in the city and other states. It was more for the cash prize and fun,” Nagesh chuckles.

Had ISL been introduced in the 1980s, Nagesh would have been a ready pick, unlike now where the Chennaiyin FC management didn’t bother to select players from the state. Nagesh himself believes that the state has the requisite talent to feature in the ISL. Further, it would act as a motivation to youngsters, he says.

Nagesh’s is the story of an impressive talent that never met success. And, whether we like it or not, the very surroundings that introduced him to the game played spoilsport. Also, players like Nagesh lacked proper guidance in their day, according to a former player under the condition of anonymity.

“The ultimate aim was to bag a job with any of the public sector companies, like SBI, RBI, Port Trust, Railways and the like,” Satyanarayanan says matter-of-factly.

“Almost 75 per cent of our players, even today, fade away after one good season. Most of the times, it’s either early marriage or indulgence in other vices,” he adds. Nagesh too would have been a name to reckon with had he made the cut in the trials for the 1982 Asiad held in New Delhi.

“I played in the three friendlies with Russia, Iran and Iraq, but failed to make the final cut,” says Nagesh though his well-wishers cry foul. I. Gandhi, (59), a former TN captain and a defender who played against Nagesh in the Chennai league, remembers the striker giving him the jitters on pre-match day and says it’s a pity that a player of his calibre failed to achieve heights.

Reiterating legendary footballer, P.K Banerjee’s words, Gandhi said, “He is the fastest striker to have played in our time.”

( Source : dc correspondent )
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