The curtain comes down today on the 2015 National Games. Among the venues that hosted the games, we came across one that stirred up the image of a 6ft tall, bearded, easy-going man. The venue in question is The Jimmy George Indoor stadium, Thiruvananthapuram, which was the setting for the Gymnastics and Handball events. Today, Sports Rediscovered takes a walk down the memory lane to revisit the hometown volleyball legend, Jimmy George.
Jimmy George. Ring a bell? No? You are not the only one.
In a country obsessed with cricket, we rarely salute sporting ability in other sports. Let us start changing that. Meet Jimmy George…
Jimmy George was arguably one of the best volleyball players the world has ever seen, and likely India’s first professional volleyball player. Hailed as one of the topmost attackers in the sport, he played for the Indian National team, and captained the side in Saudi Arabia in 1985. His brilliant smashes and attacking play enticed his fans, and helped in his mercurial rise to fame.In 1986, he led the Indian team to victory in the International Volleyball Tournament at Hyderabad. He played for six successful seasons for a club in Italy, and became the first Indian to play in the European Volley League.
The dawn of March 8, 1955 was the Day of Nativity in Indian volleyball history. For this day, in Peravoor, Kannur district in Kerala, was born Jimmy George, the first Indian to play in the prestigious European Volley League. Born into a family of sportsmen, Jimmy George learned to play volleyball from his father, a former university level player. (Trivia: He is related to Indian athlete Anju Bobby George).
The young Jimmy played for St. Joseph’s High School in Peravoor, and in 1970, he became a member of the University of Calicut volleyball team. Jimmy represented the Kerala University four times from 1973 to 1976. And it is proof to this great player’s talent that the Kerala team won the All India Inter-University Championship during these four years. He went on to captain the team in 1973 and by the age of 16, had secured a berth in the Kerala State Team, which he represented 9 times. Thereafter, there was no turning back.
His transition from local volleyball clubs to the National team and then to International clubs was very fast. In 1976, Jimmy realised that volleyball was his calling, and dropped out from the Thiruvananthapuram Medical college to join the Kerala Police, of which he remained a member till his death. This was followed by his stint abroad. He played for the Abu Dhabi Sports Club in 1979, travelled to Italy, played with the Coletto club for a season and then shifted to System Impiani in 1983. At the age of 21, 10 years prior to his magnificent performance in Seoul, Jimmy received the Arjuna award. The local lad had metamorphosed to an international star.
Stint in Italy:
Jimmy rejoined the Police service upon return, and played in the Nationals held in Kanpur in 1985. He was also part of the National Team that represented India in the Asian Games in Tehran (1974), Bangkok(1978) and Seoul (1986). After the silver winning performance in the 1962 Jakarta National Games, Indian volleyball had gone into a state of stupor. However, with the Keralite’s arrival, the jinx was broken. Tables turned in Seoul in 1986, when Jimmy, along with Uday Kumar, Cyril C Vellore and Sandeep Sharma, spearheaded the Indian team to its first Asian Games medal in 24 years, defeating the mighty Japanese 45-25.
Footage from the Seoul Asian Games:
However, the City of Pasta was beckoning him.He travelled back to Italy to play for the Arrtial Team. In 1987, he signed up with Eurostyle-Euroslba team at Montchiari in Brescia. Jimmy George was a player of immense talent, with some gravity defying tricks in his bag, and he showed promise. However, tragedy struck early.
A pall of gloom seized Kerala and the sporting community as a whole on the 30th of November, 1987, as news came in of the death of the sporting stalwart. A tragic car accident at Carpenedolo, in Milan had snuffed the light out of one of the best players the sport has ever seen.
In memory of this legend, an indoor stadium at Berscia was named after him. In a similar gesture aimed at appreciating his contributions to the game, the Government of Kerala dedicated it’s indoor stadium in Trivandrum to him. A street off Coletto Club, Milan and another in Peravur, Jimmy’s birthplace, have been named after this volleyball star.
Even 28 years after his death, we have not been able to produce another Jimmy George. The bronze in Seoul remains the last Asian Games medal the Indian Volleyball team has seen.There is a newly created stadium in Trivandrum named after the volleyball legend. Somewhere when the National Game athletes will leap in the sky to execute a jump or a goal bound move, they will find the wings to fly.
For on this very land, a legend used to let it fly for India and Kerala Police, although in a different sport. And while his jump shot can only be seen in grainy You tube coverage, his spirit stays alive.
Rest in Peace, Jimmy George !