Where Giants Once Stood: Visiting the venue of India's 1956 triumph Down Under

Melbourne's iconic sporting precinct, located on the northern bank of the Yarra River, is home to several famous venues across various sports.

Melbourne, Jan 12 (IANS)Melbourne’s iconic sporting precinct, located on the northern bank of the Yarra River, is home to several famous venues across various sports. The Melbourne Cricket Ground and Rod Laver Arena are the most prominent names among the many, but the Olympic Park Oval is a brisk walk away from these two sporting cathedrals.

The Olympic Park Oval is where a monumental piece of history in Indian football was scripted 67 years ago when the Indian football team defeated Australia in the quarterfinal of the men’s competition at the 1956 Olympic Games.

On December 1, 1956, the Indian team, coached by the legendary Syed Abdul Rahim and propelled by Neville D’Souza’s hat-trick, registered a 4-2 win against the Aussies at the Olympic Park in Melbourne. There was a disagreement prior to the game about whether the Indian team could take to the field barefooted, and even the tournament officials could not decide whether the rules from the FIFA World Cup could be applied to the Olympic competition.

However, the Football Association secretary at the time Sir Stanley Rous said, “There is nothing in the rule book that says a player must wear boots. When English sides play teams which normally play without boots, we play them that way.”

Eventually, the Indian team played with boots along with the condition that they would be allowed to remove the boots should a player suffer from cramps. After defeating Australia convincingly, India were defeated 4-1 by a strong Yugoslavian team and then India lost to Bulgaria 0-3 in the bronze medal tie to finish fourth.

The writer had the opportunity to visit the world’s sporting capital and pay tribute at the hallowed turf where the Blue Tigers created history. The journey began at Jolimont railway station, where the author first glimpsed the majestic MCG. Walking through Yarra Park, the author was welcomed by two imposing statues of Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee, both in full flight of their legendary bowling actions. A tour of the stadium and a visit to the excellent Australian Sports Museum are a must for any fan making the trip.

Continuing south, the author crossed the adjoining railway tracks using the footbridge and landed bang in the middle of Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open. The place was bustling with energy as the stage was being set for the calendar year’s first tennis Grand Slam.

Adjacent to the stadium was the Olympic Park Oval. Incredibly, it now stands as a quaint public ground with a running track and Australian football rules goals on either end, far removed from the intense action of international competitive sport that Melbourne is known for. The ground has hosted a total of 34 international matches, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers. In 2012, as domestic teams opted for other home venues, the Olympic Park stadium was demolished and reopened next year as an AFL training ground and public recreation space.

With India set to open their AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign against the Socceroos on Saturday, the writer crossed his fingers on the walk back and hoped that his visit to the Olympic Park Oval could be a lucky charm for Sunil Chhetri and his men as they aim for another memorable result against the same opponents, this time in Qatar.



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