Monday, August 2, 2010

Down the 'soccer' memory lane in Bombay!

As I watched the world cup finals between Spain and Netherlands I felt that watching my cousin Prasad and friends Anantram and others playing for Matunga Athletic Club was more enjoyable and commented about it in my blog! And when Prakash, a football aficionado, concurred with me, it felt good. My feelings were not just loyalty!

Finding no mention of MAC anywhere on the web, I approached Prakash:
' Hi Prakash: I was trying to get some material about MAC thru the net! Obviously it was well known only during the pre-internet days. I guess your memory would take care of this lapse! How about giving me your story? It will be fun to talk about them after 50 years or so, I think it will be a good addition to our soccer history, of which very little is written!'

Nice of him to respond promptly and it did not surprise me that he had such a good recall about those days! He has a phenomenal memory! Here is his story:

A good idea to write about something which lives only in the memory of those who were part of it and those who were fortunate to have been spectators around that time. The numbers of all these are sadly depleting as time goes by.

I will give what I can recall from my perspective as a spectator. Probably Prasad and others like the ex_India goalkeeper S.S.Narayan (Babu) can give more exact idea as to when MAC started its initial years and the highlights.

My earliest memory was seeing K.P. coaching a group of about 15-20 boys on an empty plot of land beside Amulakh Amichand School (R.A.Kidwai Road) just below where the harbour line train to/from Wadala to King's Circle used to pass. This was if I recall correctly about 1954 (I was only 10 at that time). All those who were being coached were Tamils and K.P. was using only Tamil and I could not even understand what he used to say.

However, I remember seeing all the boys standing in a circle about 40 Metres in diameter with K.P. in the centre and he would give the ball to one and have them passing the ball to his directions and the accent was on 'trapping' the ball and passing immediately thereafter along the ground with accuracy.

The passing would be alternated between both feet. A torrent of abuse would usually follow if anyone 'passed' in the air. This would be followed by passing through 'headers'. Then there would be groups of 3 boys who would be forwards going against 3 defenders and here again they were expected to pass the ball among themselves without having the defenders getting a touch on the ball.

I recall seeing Prasad, Ananthram, R.P.Narayan, M.K.Shanker, Babu Narayan and the youngest a kid named L.L.Mayurnathan who later became M.Rajan.(Babu Narayan was playing for Tata's but he was coming to support K.P. as I recall)

MAC was like many football teams of that time without their own 'club' or ground and was registered probably at K.P.'s residence. Football from high school level upwards in Bombay of those days was being actively supported and promoted by 2 people - Fr. Sean Mcferran of Don Bosco and K.Ziauddin of Anjuman-e-Islam. Ziauddin went on to head Bombay's Football Leagues and also became an office bearer (Hon.Secretary) of the All India Football Federation.

I have digressed from MAC because it was these sort of guys who allowed MAC to join the lower leagues of Bombay's Football playing at St.Xavier's Gymkhana ground at Parel. Fr.Mcferran was the one who allowed MAC to practice in the Don Bosco School grounds. Their practice pitch was bang in front of my house and I would see them from my balcony, sitting on the School wall or from the ground itself.

They used to have practice matches on the main soccer pitch with various teams. I have a recollection of one of their matches around 1958 or 1959 with Caltex who were a First Division team. The reason for the recollection is that one of the Caltex players was a player called Pavithran who had represented India at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

I remember that the hallmark of their play was their passing the ball around without using the aerial route except when the 'wingers' would cross the ball into the penalty area for Shanker to do the rest.

Prasad used to be the 'workhorse' not only in the passing bouts, but, also in 'dribbling' the ball to draw the defenders and provide Shanker the space to score. I distinctly recall the totally unflustered play of R.P.Narayan in the middle of the field collecting the ball regained by guys like Ananthram (a fearless tackler) and then driving towards the opponents goal. Very rarely one saw a 'wild' clearance from the defenders as the ball was usually passed to another in the middle of the field.

MAC progressed quite rapidly from the lower leagues to the B Division. The B Division (2nd Tier) teams were allowed to go through qualifying for the Rovers Cup which at that time could be called as the 'Blue Riband" of Indian Football along with the Durand Cup. The top teams in the Rovers Cup were Tata's, Caltex, Western Railway from Bombay, Mohan Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting from Calcutta among others.

MAC managed to qualify to the main draw of the Rovers Cup from the B division I think twice! (Prasad please correct me if I am mistaken). Their high point was in reaching the semi-finals in Rovers cup. I remember my classmate Robin Chakravarthy played as left winger in that match. I cannot recall the year but I think it was either 1960 or 1961.

While Prakash
does remember most of the details, I reproduce Prasad's version:

(Hi Nidhi: I did not think one would have such vivid memories almost 50years back. Prakash's recollection of the practice sessions we had are almost correct. There are a few corrections however: The team won the lower division in Parel in 1958 and were allowed to participate in the Rovers cup. We did take part in the Rovers cup in 1958 and lost to a team from Bangalore TDE, an army outfit in the second round.

But the next year in 1959 when we participated in the Harwood league in Cooperage we beat the Indian Navy team in the first round round of the
Rovers cup, beat the TDE team from Bangalore in the second round and in the q-finals met Mohan Bagan.

The first game ended in a draw, thanks mainly because of free kick Shankar took from outside the box who let loose a scorcher of a kick directly into the goal. Sett the Mohan Bagan goalkeeper who also represented India did not see the ball enter the net. The next day during the replay Mohan Bagan scored first and Shanker equalized to make it 1-1. Midway during the second half I got a pass from RP and was able to avoid a defender and scored the goal which happened to be the winning goal. We lost to Mohamaden Sporting in the S-final.)

To continue with
Prakash; After 1961 the team lost guys like Shanker,Prasad.
I think R.P.Narayan had to stop playing from 'knee' problems. R.P.'s brothers Bala and Seshadri came in along with Shivram Iyer, K.N.Sastry, SVS Mani (goalie), Tahir Merchant (Rashid's brother), Sudhir Chodnekar and others along with the old hands M.Rajan and Rashi Merchant.

Gradually MAC went into decline.MAC had the misfortune that it was the dream of one man, K.P.,and with declining health and total paucity of funds and without any 'structure' to sustain it despite the 'beautiful' football they displayed on the fields it had to go into decline. .....Prakash

( Prasad adds: After the season many of us left MAC. RP joined Caltex, Shankar, Rajan and I joined Mafatlal. After one year I joined Caltex and played for two years and then left for Sweden at which point I retired....)

(Prasad sent me the pictures and said: "They were taken by press photographers and are mostly from the times I played for Mafatlal and Caltex!" They are still relevant as they belong to that period!)

While I cannot recall details like Prakash, I do remember the impact the very young team made as they entered the field in their smart outfits. You could see that they were a disciplined lot! It is no mean feat that they beat a top team like the Mohan Bagan! This really created waves amongst the soccer fans.

I believe that K P could have contributed much more as a coach training legions of players over the years, similar to Nick Boleteri in tennis. It is a pity that this did not happen in a big scale, but many of the players he trained were later picked up by the top teams in the senior league and most of them played for the State and a few represented India. There could have been more!

I guess that this would have happened if he had changed his ways a bit and had encouraged his players to get on to the bigger stage and participate in the national arena sooner. I had heard that he discouraged his players from going for trials for the state when they were in their prime. We know such things happen with coaches. They cannot let go!

But it does not take away the very signal contribution he made for soccer and the very positive influence he had on a group of educated young kids! It is certain that the discipline drilled into them helped! They learnt to have a better focus and did very well in their lives!

I hope to get more inputs about the team and more blog a real tribute a group of youngsters and their dedicated coach.

On a personal note: my dear uncle and Prasad's father, B V S Iyengar, made it a point to attend almost all the games played at the Cooperage. He was very proud of his son and his team mates. I was a witness to this whenever I had the privilege to be with him at the members stand! He would be totally involved with the game! A true and a passionate soccer fan.

It is also satisfying to write about my big brother Prasad. Years ago he found out that he was a month or so older and claimed seniority! He also played Basketball at the national level and played for India as well! It is maninly due to him that I started playing Basketball and into playing sports, which luckily I still do!

I remember fondly the times we spent together in Bangalore, when he and his friends, Anantram, T A Bala and Chellappa came for an extended visit. I visited Anantram while he was working in London and sadly he left us while very young. Recently his daughter Priya moved to Bangkok, she and her husband Shrikanth are very dear to us and I am reminded of Anataram whenever Priya smiles.....Nidhi

Pictures of Anantram Priya sent me, hope we will find some on the soccer field!


Prakash Kamath said...

Nice blog and even nicer that you have put my recollections as a major part and interspersing with the more correct details from Prasad. It was indeed nice of Prasad to point out the correctness of what I had recalled of those early days of MAC and also thank him for correcting my mistakes. We need more inputs from others who were either part of MAC as players and also those who had the pleasure of watching them play. Those were 'heady' days which must be recorded.


Nandini Shrinidhi said...

Appa, what a fun post. Prasad uncle, thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures and Prakash uncle, for the details. And I loved the note about Priya's smile. Keep writing!

la said...

dear uncle beautiful blog! one of the high points of living in bangkok, was meeting u and aunty often. and almost every time, you would invariably mention my dad...always making me smile. and when prakash uncle spoke about my dad (30 yrs after he died) and prasad uncle's football, how he watched them play...i had tears in my eyes...thank you prakash uncle.
all our lives, we've met and heard people talk about the MAC football...and KP would always have much to say, anytime we went to matunga with my Pati(grandmom)..who would always take me and my brother vyas to meet him and see the ground.

thank you so very much uncle, i love that you chose to write this.
Priya Shreekanth Ramaswami

Anonymous said...

dear uncle beautiful blog! one of the high points of living in bangkok, was meeting u and aunty often. and almost every time, you would invariably mention my dad...always making me smile. and when prakash uncle spoke about my dad (30 yrs after he died) and prasad uncle's football, how he watched them play...i had tears in my eyes...thank you prakash uncle.
all our lives, we've met and heard people talk about the MAC football...and KP would always have much to say, anytime we went to matunga with my Pati(grandmom)..who would always take me and my brother vyas to meet him and see the ground.

thank you so very much uncle, i love that you chose to write this.
Priya Shreekanth Ramaswami

Rohini said...

Great post! Finally read it :-). Great pictures too. Nice contribution from Prakash uncle and Prasad uncle too.Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

The fond recollection brought tears in my eyes!I could sense the passion with which you have recollected all this which has been very dear to you.Otherwise one cannot recall something which happened 50 years ago with so much fondness..what we lack in our country is , encouragement to such players who have so much nationalistic feeling in them.Good to read this, and I hope all well with you in India.Will plan and meet sometime,Srinidhi, our goodwishes and fond rememberances to you and tara,Geetha and Ramaswami/

srinidhi said...

Dears Geetha and Ramaswami and priya.
Thanks for your comments! It gave me a lot of pleasure to wrtite about, as Prakash says, those golden days. Some memories are forever!
Will look forward to meeting you all here in Indiad! Srinidhi and Tara

Vanaja Anantharaman said...

I am so happy to read about MAC, it is so nice of u to remember each and every person. In our country in those days football was not encouraged by the school or government, like cricket but still many of them enjoyed playing football. I know my husband loved football. After we returned to Mumbai in 1973, Ananthraman joined the Bombay Gym and he played in the team for 3 years. Later, it was very difficult for him to play because he was travelling a lot ..he used to play the friendly matches.
He used to watch all the football matches at cooperage stadium, and really enjoyed them. When we were at Newcastle, he never missed a match at Liverpool and Manchester.

After almost 30 years I am so happy to see and read the article written by u, Nidhi. I am so touched about it. Early days Prasad used to come from the US on holidays and he would always vist us at Shivaji Park where I was living with my Priya and Vyas. He used to talk about football and about my husband. My mil took my kids to meet Mr K.P.Krishnan. My son Vyas also loves the game, he played for Bombay Scottish School, DadarXI and Bombay Gym before he came to the US.
I am so happy my daughter Priya and son in law Shreekanth are very close to u and Tara, of course u know Shreekant’s mom and dad very well. The world is very small. I remember when u visited us in London, it was all pleasant memories in my life.
Once again i thank u for the blog.

Prashanth D'Souza, Singapore said...

Thank you for the wonferful post. Have been searching for any information at all about K.P.Krishnan that I could find online.

I used to train under him from the age of 8 until I left school. We were the football team of Fatima High School, Vidyavihar. I passed out in 1990 and many from our team passed out around that year...late 80s and early 90s.

Barring the names in your post, it could've been us playing and training on any given day.

Thanks for the wonderful pictures

I had the pleasure of being associated with Mr. Krishnan even after school and played for the INDIAN GYMKHANA team alongside some of my school friends and some other wards of Krishnan sir. We played the second division of the WIFA (Western India Football Association). I also took a couple of my friends from my place to introduce to him and they also played for a while.

Being associated with KP is one of the most singular periods of my life on the whole as well as if I go down to details.

It is entirely due to his efforts (and of course some from yuors truly) that we were runners up in one of the u-12 tournaments, and I went to Aurangabad alongwith 3 others of my team mates for Maharashtra state championships. Bombay district won those championships, yours truly being the centre defender (4 forwards, 3 mid field and 3 defenders being KPs favourite formation). 7 of the Bombay team were then sent to Delhi for the national selections, 2 of us, a school team mate and yours truly from KPs team.

We missed KPs training sorely during that period we were in Delhi as we were a ragged bunch from Bombay, Pune, Nagpur, Satara etc. who'd never played together befoer and never practised even when we got to the Jawaharlal Nehru Asiad stadium in Delhi. It was a disaster as teh coach just couldn't get us to gel and we were given a royal pasting by teams like Manipur and Karnataka who were much bigger for 11 year olds and much more cohesive. In any case, we defeated Gujarat which was some consolation, the goal being scored by my team mate and KPs ward, Sameer.

Went to visit KP a couple of times after leaving INdia, and he was the same obstinate and disciplined man. Then I heard thruogh my paretns that he had been shifted to Kerala to his sister's place as he was in bad health.

Went last year in May/June to Indian Gym again, and was lucky to meet a member who knew him well. Told me that KP was no more, had passed away in 2008 in Kerala itself.

Have managed to get a couple of articles on the Indian Express and The Hindu about his demise, and another link from harmony india.

Thanks for bringing back those wonderful memories.

Prashanth D'Souza