INTERVIEW Football aficionado J. Andy Symington talks about his love for the game
J. Andy Symington is a known face in Madurai football circles. Nothing in life is more important for him than the game. Be it an international game or a local league encounter, this Britisher accords it the same importance.
In his love for the sport, he has gone to the extent of naming his elder son Andres Keith Kumar after Kumar, a popular Indian football player of his time.
Once an employee of erstwhile Madura Mills, Symington was instrumental in starting the company’s football club. He spotted the talents and brought them together. He fixed up an experienced coach from Goa to guide the team and was behind the formidable side that etched its name in the higher echelons of Indian football.
“Our team won major all-India tournaments and this all happened in a matter of five years,” says Symington. He lived in India for five years and then left for England. “But I kept in touch with the team and they showed tremendous faith in me. I vehemently opposed it when the company dismantled all the sports clubs. The company was known by then as Coats India,” he says.
One of the players he encouraged went on to start the Acme Football Club with his guidance. Symington visited the country again in 1991 to give his technical expertise for the club. “I have always enjoyed sports of all kind,” he says. “Though I belong to a country which is known for its cricket, unfortunately, I was never a good cricket player. Moreover, most of the countries I worked in were predominantly football-playing nations. That is how I developed interest in the game. I was associated with the teams either as a player or as a coach.”
He gathered rich experience working in football-playing countries such as Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Venezuela. He passed on that knowledge to the club team in Madurai. “I have played local league in those countries,” he says.
He went on to play till the age of 52 but an ankle injury he sustained in his younger days prevented him from playing further. “Bad ankles and knees stopped me, otherwise I would have continued,” he laughs. “It all happened in 1969. I was young, single and thought I was indestructible. I damaged my ligaments in the ankles. It hampered my progress slowly.”
But his will to play the game has inspired many young footballers. “I hate idling. After retirement I wished to do something useful in life and not be glued to the television set.”
After his retirement in 2003, Symington turned technical advisor to the Acme Football Club and has been monitoring the day-to-day affairs of the club from Scotland, where he resides at present. “Once in every 10 months I visit Madurai only to supervise the club activities and guide them in the right direction,” he says.
Now the club has developed into an academy to train young footballers in and around Madurai. It’s prime objective is not to develop a world class professional footballer but to discipline the boys and train them to become responsible citizens. “We would like to inculcate discipline via sports,” he clarifies. “Our aim is to try and help young boys have interest in life. We are not very keen to develop Madurai’s best football club. We will be more than happy if the boys get good opportunities because of their learning in the academy.”
The members of the academy are in the process of creating the necessary infrastructure. They have raised funds and have bought land for the academy. Andy Symington’s dream now is to create basic, middle and senior categories in the academy. “There is also space for senior players, they cannot be ignored,” he says.
The Acme Football Club has already created ripples in the age-group football tournaments. The club motivates children of the Burma Colony and also those in the nearby Sri Lankan Refugee Camp. Whenever Symington visits the Temple City he never fails to counsel the parents to send their children to the ground. “If a boy has got talent he must put it to good use,” he says.
“You are in a constant race with time and you may never get the age back,” says Symington. “Parents also have the responsibility. I could see a lot of difference in the children’s approach towards the game. But I also see men in their prime idling away their time here. What a waste.”