Sports

With Fortunato Franco’s death, Indian football has lost one of its finest in the midfield – Times of India

PANAJI: Nobody could tell the story of Indian football’s greatest triumph better than Fortunato Franco. The former midfielder was a member of the squad that attained immortality in Indian football, winning the 1962 Asian Games gold in Jakarta. He told the triumphant story with amazing clarity and authority, remembering every detail, including the daring long walk from the stadium to the Games Village with a gold medal around his neck.
Jakarta was cold to India. The 1,10,000 capacity crowd at the stadium cheered South Korea, but Franco didn’t care while walking through them after the 2-1 victory.
“It was Indian football’s most glorious moment. How could I ever forget what happened? We were, after all, the Kings of Asian football,” the 1960 Rome Olympian had once told this paper.
Franco will no longer tell such stories from Indian football’s glorious past, notably the sixties. The former midfield marshal died of Covid-19 complications early on Monday at a hospital in south Goa. He was 84 and is survived by his wife, son and daughter.
“Franco died this morning,” his wife Myrtle told TOI. “He had Covid-19 but was out of the ICU and had also tested negative. Things went bad (again) two days ago. He had a heart attack.”
Born in Colvale in north Goa, Franco and his family soon migrated to Mumbai where he realised his childhood dream of donning colours for the all-powerful Tata Sports Club, after a brief stint with Western Railway.
Franco grew up to become one of the finest midfielders India has seen. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, a year after he made his international debut against Pakistan, he never got a chance to take the field, falling behind the likes of Kempaiah and Ram Bahadur, two of coach SA Rahim’s undroppables.
But he couldn’t be left out for long. Franco worked hard and soon won Rahim’s confidence. Whether it was Ram Bahadur or Prasanta Sinha besides him at the Asiad in 1962, the midfielder hardly put a foot wrong, even creating the goal for Jarnail Singh Dhillon to score in the historic final.
Between 1960 and 1966, Franco was an automatic choice for the national team, winning gold at the Asiad and silver at the Asian Cup. He also won the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy with Maharashtra in 1963-64.
Franco believed he was a prime candidate to captain India at the 1966 Asiad but a knee injury in a domestic league game the same year forced him into early retirement.
He later took to coaching but didn’t have the same success.
“Sir Franco was my coach when I played for Tata SC in 1984. We always took great pride that we had an Olympian amongst us and that too, a Goan,” said former India midfielder Lector Mascarenhas.
Once Franco retired from his job as senior manager (public relations) with Tatas, he returned to Goa and settled in Colva.
Franco was among the few footballers from the golden era who never received any honour from the central government. For the past three years, he applied for the Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement award, without success.
“The decision left me with a broken heart,” he had told TOI after the first snub. “I’ve given my life for football and anyone who saw me play will testify to what I did on the field. If merit is the sole criteria to choose the winner, what have I not achieved?”

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