SPORT

Orlando Rayan, the doughty tackler

Karthik Krishnaswamy

CHENNAI: After Thursday’s semifinal exit, Tamil Nadu’s record of reaching the Santosh Trophy final just once remains intact. That was in the 1972-73 edition held in Goa, where Tamil Nadu finished runner-up to Bengal.

At the heart of Tamil Nadu’s back-line in that tournament was Orlando Rayan, who formed a steely central defensive partnership with Reserve Bank of India teammate Gunapandian.

“Back in Chennai, people called us the Chinese Wall,” says Rayan. “We had excellent co-ordination: I was the tough tackler, while Gunapandian would intercept loose balls, and play more like a sweeper.”

This tournament was Rayan’s first Santosh Trophy, in a career that saw him represent his home State in five editions, as well as Indian Railways thrice (Rayan moved from Reserve Bank to Southern Railways in 1975).

He was also part of the national side for two years, and was in the Indian team that finished runner-up in the Aga Khan Gold Cup in Dhaka in 1978.

Unprecedented show

Rayan says that Tamil Nadu’s unprecedented — and since unequalled — showing in the 72-73 Santosh Trophy was the result of careful preparation. “We started our camp a month before the tournament — I remember that the team stayed at YMCA, and we practised morning and evening,” he says. “Our team was full of talented players, especially centre forwards Moideen Kutty and Johnson.”

After getting through the initial rounds with ease, Tamil Nadu faced Karnataka in the semifinals.

Rayan recollects, “Karnataka was a very strong side, and included players like Ulaganathan (who later represented both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan) and Natarajan. We won 2-1 – it was a narrow win, and luck was definitely a factor.”

In the final, however, Tamil Nadu was overwhelmed by a formidable Bengal side, which won 4-1 to register its 14th title.

“Bengal had an excellent, speedy forward line, with players like (Subhash) Bhowmick and (Mohammed) Habib. The team also included two or three Goans who were playing for the Calcutta clubs, which meant that the crowd was supporting Bengal,” says Rayan.

“At first, we were a little afraid of Bengal. But we were in good form, and managed to keep it goalless in the first half.

“Very soon, though, they scored twice, and even though we made it 2-1 with about 20 minutes left, we were never in the game.”

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