Simon Sundararaj is an 84-year-old former Indian Footballer and Olympian from Tamil Nadu. He has the distinction of being the last Indian to score a goal for India in the Olympics. Simon Sundararaj was the first player from Tamil Nadu to represent India at the Olympics.
The decade 1950 – 1960 was the Golden Period of Indian football. After 1960, India has not qualified for the Olympics.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Simon Sundararaj by phone. He talks with pride of the Olympics and coaching Kerala to win their first ever Santosh Trophy. The passion for football is strong in his voice, as he talks about the Olympics, about how he learnt the sport, playing with shoes and about how to coach young children.
Interview with Mr Simon Sundararaj
How will you describe yourself?
I am just a Human Being.
What does it feel like being the Indian last goal scorer in the Olympics
I was proud to represent the country. I am proud to be an Olympian. But being the last Indian to score a goal in the Olympics 60 years ago should not be something to celebrate. We should question why we haven’t even qualified in 60 years!
What is the difference between football when you played and now?
I think it is not the same on any level. I was hoping to see India play in the Asian Games or in the Olympics. In 60 years we have not played.
Then our coaches learnt tactics by reading books from Russia and Europe and coached us. We played using our own brains.
Today football players have so much adulation and opportunity. When you watch a good player, you have to see how you can make your game like theirs, learn their skills. Sadly, many youngsters copy their dress, their kit. They need to start copying their diligence and their game. Every player has to focus on improving his or her own game
What do you think should be the role of a Coach
Back then there were no professional coaches. Mr. Rahim, our coach then, learned from Russian and German books how to coach football. He was one of the most successful coaches of India. Also talent was plenty.
Now with children, we have to teach them the fundamentals. They have to feel it and understand it. They have to understand what mistake they made and make it right, because the skill has to be perfect in the game. They have to learn the fundamentals of contact, position. Then only they will grow in the sport.
What we opportunities for footballers like then? What's it like now?
We had such good players. They need to give back to Indian football. In those days, we were forced to choose livelihood over giving back to the game. You have to earn a livelihood even as a player. I worked for the Southern Railways as a Railway Guard. But I had to take a loss of pay to go to the India Camp. I got the opportunity to move to Kerala as a coach and I chose that. I coached Kerala to their first Santosh Trophy win! I would have liked to have that opportunity locally. But it was not there at that time.
We also didn’t get recognition – as Olympians or as national players. We get recognition from fans. But nothing from the associations and the government. Milka Singh was conferred with the Arjuna award in 2004. For running in the 60s. He returned it. There was no recognition then and there is no recognition or pension for veterans now.
Now there are many more facilities, opportunities – there is the association, the government, and the federation. And there is the commercialization of sport. But we played for the love of the game.
What do you think should be the role of parents
Parents have to encourage and support their children. The mindset has to be of progress and development.
When a parent sends their child to play sport, they should know (like our parents knew in the old days) that the discipline would come. They should have no concerns on that front.
What is your advise to Coaches
Use words of kindness. If the player makes a mistake, you should have the capacity to explain it, demonstrate it. Then the player will believe in it.
I was a 9th standard student; I went to Trichy to watch a match. I saw a left footer take a right side corner kick and it was a goal. Everyone was so surprised. I thought to myself “why can’t I do this?” and I did at an All India Tournament many years later. I practiced it a lot. I practiced it till I made it perfect.
Why can’t we do this? We need to encourage this practice till it’s perfect. We should not give up. We should understand and break it down. It will come.
So the coach should encourage the child to do this. Instead of saying “You missed the goal” you should help them see the mistake and say, “here is what you need to correct”. Make the player practice. Make it situational. Let them do it till they get it right. Till they perfect it. And then it will come right in the game.