As Manuel Fredericks swings the hockey stick vigorously at the dusty ground of St. Michael’s Anglo Indian School here on Thursday, he hardly looks his 66 years.
Neither does he look like the Olympic medal winner who has had a tough life since hanging up his boots.
He was the goalkeeper of the Indian team that won the bronze in men’s hockey in 1972 and is the only Keralite to win an Olympic medal. But Kerala has not recognised him yet. Neither has Karnataka, his adopted State; nor, for that matter, the hockey administration. He earns his living by coaching school children in Bangalore.
Now, he is on a rare visit to his hometown, in Northern Kerala. “But, I don’t come here often; it is very expensive to travel, you know,” Fredericks says.
Yes, it would cost you Rs. 400 to travel from Bangalore to Kannur by bus.
He is not tired even after sweating it out for nearly two hours, giving valuable tips to some hockey players attached to a couple of local clubs.
“I would love to coach a Kerala team; you see, I am as fit as any young coach,” he says at the end of the coaching session on the very premises he used to play as a kid.
“It saddens me to see Kerala conceding goals in double digits at National tournaments.”
He admits he is saddened by the way he has been ignored by just about everyone. “I applied for the Dhyan Chand Award seven times, but never got it,” he says.
“It is the greatest honour in Indian hockey, and I could use the Rs. 5 lakh that comes with it.”
Five years ago, Fredericks thought he might receive some help after all, when the then Kerala Sports Minister M. Vijayakumar allocated him land to build a house here. “But after all these years, I have not got it yet,” he says.
“That Minister genuinely wanted to help me, I know.”
Former Union Sports Minister, Ajay Maken, had last year announced during the London Olympic days that former Olympians would be absorbed as coaches by SAI. And Fredericks certainly would have welcomed such a job offer; he could have taught a thing or two to young goalkeepers.
Fredericks though is not bitter but is rather a proud man who opens up about his difficulties with reluctance.
He is much happier to tell you about his exploits under the bar in Munich all those years ago.
“Though we could only win the bronze, we were good enough for the gold,” says Fredericks, who was the Indian custodian for about a decade.
“That team had players like Ashok Kumar, Ajit Pal Singh, Harcharan Singh, M.P. Ganesh and Kulwant Singh; we had crushed Great Britain 5-0 and Australia 3-1.”
Yes, he clearly remembers the Munich massacre too.
“The incident took place just 60 yards away from where we were staying,” he says.
“We were preparing for our semifinal match with Pakistan, which was then postponed by a day. I still could recollect that loud noise of gunfire.”
But the memories of India’s 2-1 victory over Holland in the bronze-medal play-off and his meeting with the then Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq are sharper.
“After a Test match with Pakistan at Lahore, I was congratulated by Zia, who said ‘I was the real Indian goalkeeper’,” he reminisces.
“I also remember playing in front of actors like Sunil Dutt, who appreciated me.”
It is memories like these from the distant past that help Fredericks forget his worries of the present.