Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Noel, we will miss you"

Goa FA Secretary Savio Messias pays a touching tribute to his close friend Noel da Lima Leitao.

Tribute to Noel da Lima Leitao

On Sunday, when a friend called up to inform me about Noel's death in Kolkata, it took me quite some time before I could really believe his words. I met him only the other day in Goa and found him as energetic as he was when he first decided to get involved in football in 1991. He showed absolutely no sign of any illness and sounded more concerned about the general health of Indian football.

Today, as I sit down to write on Noel, my memory goes back to 1991 when I dragged him into football administration. Vasco Sports Club were in total doldrums during that period and the club management desperately wanted some young blood in the administration to revive the institution. That was the time when I approached him with a request to join the club.

Initially, Noel was reluctant as he had never been associated with football before. “Why me?” he asked, but after little persuasion, he agreed to be associated with Vasco Sports Club. In a short time, he proved to be an asset for the club.

Those who were closely associated with Vasco Sports Club during that time are aware of the important role Noel played in reviving the fortunes of the club. Over the next few years, Vasco once again became a force to reckon with in Indian football. Noel led from the front as Vasco became one of the first Goan clubs to recruit foreign players and even appoint a foreign coach.

To the present generation, Noel was mostly known as a television commentator. But to me, he was a multi-faceted personality who was able to display his silken skills in administration also.

Having tasted success at the club level, Noel rose to be the Vice-President of the Goa Football Association (GFA) in 1993-95 and then the Treasurer from 1995-99. Given his ability and instant success as an administrator, he would have easily continued in important positions in the GFA till date but Noel was not one of those who always wanted to cling to power. After two terms, he simply stepped down from the GFA.

Even in the GFA, Noel was able to bring in a lot of changes. He brought sponsors for the association and played a crucial role in developing the Duler Stadium. In between, he edited a highly informative book on Goan football (The Grass is Green in Goa) during the 40th anniversary of the GFA.

Noel's untimely death, I personally feel, is a big blow to Indian football. A man of great business acumen, Noel was one of those rare football administrators in India who was vastly educated, knowledgeable and well acquainted with the game's global development both at the administrative and the technical level.

Even though Noel distanced himself from the GFA administration, he retained huge popularity among the members. Till the last day, he was a member of the Jury of Appeal of the GFA. Last July, he was re-elected to the same post with a thumping majority.

A few hours before Noel breathed his last in his hotel room in Kolkata, his deep and sonorous voice was heard on television during the IFA Shield final. Pity he will not talk to me again in his familiar and friendly voice when he returns to Goa on Monday.

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Monday, 14. September 2009 - Savio Messias (GW)


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