Brahmanand attains a tall order
Profiling Padmashri awardee and biggest name in Indian football
MUMBAI: The latest list of Padmashri awardees includes a tall performer from the past. Brahmanand Sankhwalkar, 67, is part of an era when Indian footballers and the national team was respected in Asia.
After a lifetime of educating himself in goalkeeping, he earned India
captaincy and later was named Player of the Decade 1985-1995 by the All India Football Federation.
One of India’s biggest names in goalkeeping following exploits for Salgaocar Sports Club in national-level club tournaments, for state side Goa in the Santosh Trophy National Championships and guarding the Indian bar for decades under famous Indian and foreign coaches, Brahmanand took charge as the national men’s team as goalkeeping coach.
Currently, he is giving back to the sport in various capacities for the Sports Authority of Goa, Sesa Football Academy, Goa Football Development Council and Goa Football Association.
Fighting fit due to a regulated, disciplined lifestyle, he keeps in touch via veteran’s football. The
Padmashri is recognition for his contribution, given when the awardee is in a position to enjoy the accolades.
Getting a break at the international level at the Asian Youth Championships in 1975, he moved into the senior squad for the Merdeka Cup within a year and earned the ‘Leopard’ nickname for the show in goal during an exposure tour to Zambia.
India captaincy came his way in 1983 during the Nehru Gold Cup, an international event hosted by India in the 80s and featured top national squads from Europe, Latin America and Africa.
Pic: Indian Football Team (twitter)
He played two more Nehru Cups, followed by the Asian Games in 1982 New Delhi, 1986 Seoul and was honoured with the Arjuna award in 1997.
Turning to coaching post-retirement, the ex-India captain educated himself in the teaching and player-management aspects under German
coach Dietmar Cramer, Ireland coach Billy Bingham, cleared the AFC coaching courses at various levels.
T Shanmugham, noted Salgaocar SC coach and a playing member of the Asian Games champion side in 1951, later Technical Director at the Nehru Cup, is considered to be Brahamanand’s coaching mentor.
The goalkeeper rose to the top in Indian football when Kolkata clubs ruled, coaches and administrators from Bengal called the shots. Goalkeeping was a particularly competitive position.
For Brahmanand, the tougher the opponent the better for him to prove unbeatable under the crossbar.
The Taleigaon-born custodian, hitting his peak under Shanmugham’s guidance at Salgaocar, showed his value at the Santhosh Trophy 1983 against Bengal, playing in front of a
partisan crowd in Kolkata. Goa emerged joint winners, along with Bengal, after two goalless draws.
It was time for the national selectors to take notice of the brilliant talent from Goa. He bettered this 1983 feat against a crack Bengal side at the next year’s Santosh Trophy.
Goa’s goalkeeper-cum-captain this time, he kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament, 576
minutes. He lifted the trophy as Goa was crowned India’s best state team following a final win over Punjab. The record still stands.
International appearances continued, despite intense competition for the goalkeeping berth with players from the Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting dominant.
The fact that a player from Goa managed a remarkable 50 India appearances is a tribute to focus and fitness, determination and composure under pressure.
Genuine talent can break down barriers. Former Yugoslav national coach, Ciric Milovan, was one of the high-profile foreign coaches ever to take charge, under whom the wiry, lanky goalkeeper developed into a confident talent. India’s rivals were Argentina and Poland, to name a couple of national teams taking part, in response to India’s Nehru Cup invitation.
Soviet Union sent a powerful squad for the 1986 Nehru Cup, organised by the AIFF. The custodian from Goa was part of a squad that faced quality players, World Cuppers among them. Igor Belanov (USSR), Nery Pumpido, Jose Luis Brown, Jorge Buruchaga, Comino Julian (Argentina), Wlodzimierz Smolarek (Poland), Laszlo Kiss (Hungary) are World Cuppers to have played in our stadiums.
Brahmanand and his peers embraced the challenge. Back home, Kolkata clubs came calling, he remained loyal to Salgaocar and Goa.
He joined Churchill Brothers afterwards, then a new entity in Indian football and played the last two seasons with the old club, Anderson Marines, in the Goa league.
A known name anywhere in India where football is popular, he joins a handful of ace footballers to be on the Padmashri awards list.
OTHER PADMASHRI AWARDEES
Gostho Pal, Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, Pradip Kumar Banerjee, Baichung Bhutia, Oinam Bembem Devi, Sunil Chhetri.