In the year 2000, Ramesh Chandra Dubey was sat on the hot seat of the popular game show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, the Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. He had done well for himself, winning 50 lakhs, before the final question that would make him the first crorepati in the history of the show was put to him by Amitabh Bachchan.
“Who was the only Indian to score a hat-trick in Olympic football?”
While one would normally back someone from the spiritual home of Indian football to know the answer to that one, the Kolkatan faltered and decided to quit the game and go home with what he had already won.
Public interest in Indian football has always been in fits and starts, and this was one of those occasions. Neville D’Souza trended for a couple of days and as is with all our footballers, the name was then duly consigned to the recesses of our collective memories.
Neville did not have a long career. A somewhat ambivalent attitude towards fitness curtailed the number of years he could have carried on for at the highest level. He was a legend in Mumbai football though, first with the Tatas and then with Caltex, one of the star attractions in domestic football at the time. He was also partly adopted by Goan football, having been born there and starting his career with Goan Sports Club.
The 1956 Olympics at Melbourne is where he earned his stripes. In what is considered in some quarters to be our finest performance ever on the international stage, India placed fourth in the tournament. The final was contested by the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, who would go on to meet again in the final of the inaugural European Championships of 1960. This reflects on the quality on show at the Games.
When India came up against the hosts, Neville had a point to prove after being ridiculed on a bus ride in Melbourne where he claimed India could beat Australia at football. He ran circles around the opposition defence and put three goals past them in a dominating Indian display. In the process, India became the first Asian team to make the semi-finals at an Olympics and D’Souza was the first Asian to score a hat-trick. The hosts claimed later that the win was a ‘fluke’ and asked for a rematch at Sydney after the Games were over. India won 7-1. Neville scored two goals.
In the semifinals, he opened the scoring against the mighty Yugoslavians and almost added an audacious second beating two defenders and lobbing the keeper only for the ball to bounce off the crossbar. Yugoslavia gradually took control of proceedings and won a deserved victory.
Neville Stephen J. D’Souza however walked into the history books with the most accomplished performance by an Indian on the international stage. His star may have only flickered briefly, but in that time, it shone brighter than most.