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Jimmy George- the unfamiliar Indian who ruled international Volleyball circuit

Jimmy George is considered as one of the greatest Indian Volleyball player of all time. His measured jump floats and accurate spin serves on court spread his name from Kerala to Italy, making him the first Indian player to turn professional.

George was born to the famous Kudakkachira family of Peravoor as the second son of George Joseph and Mary George. Joseph, who was a former university-level player, always wanted her sons to play Volleyball. Jimmy’s seven brothers- Jose, Mathew, Sebastian, Francis, Stanley, Winston, and Robert- all played the game at some stage in their life. They all started as ball pickers, then got a chance to play in the backcourt and ultimately got an opportunity to serve. But Jimmy George was the most talented of all and thus went ahead to represent the state first and then the national team.

Jimmy first played for St. Joseph’s High School in Peravoor. From 1973-1976 he represented the Kerala University team that won all the four All India Inter-University Championship during his playing days. Jimmy’s stylish and elegant jumps were noticed by one and all related to the game and he secured a berth in the Kerala State Team in quick succession. Thereafter he represented the state nine times.

Simultaneously, Jimmy George was an excellent swimmer. He became the University champion in Swimming twice, in 1971 and 1972, and won four gold medals. But his love for Volleyball led him to bid goodbye to the pool. George became a full-time Volleyball player once he got selected for the national team. He played for India’s national volleyball team in the Asian Games in Tehran in 1974, Bangkok in 1978 and in Seoul in 1986 where India won the bronze medal. He was captain of the Indian team that played at Saudi Arabia in 1985, and led the Indian team to victory in India Gold Cup International Volleyball Tournament at Hyderabad in 1986.

Jimmy’s jumps helped him to focus hard on the ball and also to hit it with great strength. It is said that he could ‘hang’ for an extra second in thin air which gives him more time to logically place his fierce smashes.This quality brought him in the eyes of Russian coach Sergei Ivanovich Gavrilov who had a one-week training camp at Trivandrum in 1976. Gavrilov advised him to become a professional and try to play in international clubs. Inspired by his good words, Jimmy George plunged into the international circuit and first played for Abu Dhabi Sports Club in 1979. Thus, he attained the distinction of becoming the first Indian Volleyball player to turn professional.

Jimmy George was also the youngest Volleyball player to win the Arjuna Award. He won it when he was only 21 years. He was given the G.V. Raja Award in 1975 and won the Manorama Award, for the best sportsman of Kerala, in 1976. He was judged the best player in the Gulf Region while playing for Abu Dhabi Sports Club, from 1979-82.

In 1982 he left Abu Dhabi to join Coletto Club at Treviso in Italy and played for them for a season. He then switched to System Impiani and played for them in 1983-84. In 1987-88 he signed a contract with Eurostyle-Euroslba team at Montchiari in Brescia. But this immensely promising life was cut short by a tragic accident in Italy while he was travelling for a match. Jimmy George passed away on 30th November, 1987 at the age of 32.  The world came crashing down on the George family as Peravoor mourned the death of their famous son. Thousands of people from different parts of Kerala reached there to attend the last rites at the Cemetery of St. Joseph’s Church.

Following his death, the Kerala government named its indoor stadium at Trivandrum as Jimmy George Indoor Stadium. At St. Thomas College in Pala a volleyball stadium is named after him and so is a stadium of St.Joseph’s Higher Secondary School. There is also a road at Peravoor named after Jimmy George. The Police Department at Kannaur, where George served from 1976 till his death named its conference hall in his name.

Jimmy George was immensely popular in Italy. He had a steady fan following who admired and loved him and took him as their role model. To honour this Indian and to remember George’s contribution to Italian Volleyball, an indoor stadium at Montichiari, called PalaGeorge, is dedicated in his memory.

The beloved family of Jimmy George remembers him through Jimmy George Foundation that works towards the upliftment of grassroot-level sport in Kerala. His father, who died in 2017, was in deep grief. But the only consolation was that all his sons once played as a team that he always wanted. Jimmy George is still remembered as one of the most favourite sons of Kerala and the Volleyball world remembers him as ‘The Man Who Defied Gravity’.   

About Poulomi Kundu

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