Where Giants Once Stood: Visiting the venue of India’s 1956 triumph Down Under

Nearly seven decades ago, India redeemed their pledge to shine bright in the Olympics Games with a stunning 4-2 win over hosts Australia at the Olympic Park, Melbourne. Recently, our correspondent had the privilege to have a tour of the same venue, which, in his own words, was ‘a pilgrimage’    

Shraishth Jain

MELBOURNE: Situated on the northern bank of the Yarra River, Melbourne’s iconic sporting precinct houses several famed venues across a multitude of sports.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Rod Laver Arena remain the most prominent names among the lot and have served as hallowed arenas for many of sport’s celebrated gladiators to leave their indelible imprints. However, a brisk walk away from these two sporting cathedrals lies the Olympic Park Oval, where a monumental piece of history in Indian football was scripted a little over 67 years ago when the Indian football team defeated Australia in the quarterfinal of the men’s competition at the 1956 Olympic Games.


On December 1, 1956, the Indian team coached by the legendary Syed Abdul Rahim and propelled by Neville D’Souza’s hat-trick, the first by an Asian at the Olympic Games, registered a 4-2 win against the Aussies at the Olympic Park in Melbourne. 

As per The Socceroos and their Opponents by Laurie Schwab, there was a disagreement prior to the game about whether the Indian team could take to the field barefooted and even the tournament officials could not decide whether the rules from the FIFA World Cup could be applied to the Olympic competition. 

However, the Football Association secretary at the time Sir Stanley Rous said, “There is nothing in the rule book that says a player must wear boots. When English sides play teams which normally play without boots, we play them that way.” 

Eventually, the Indian team played with boots along with the condition that they would be allowed to remove the boots should a player suffer from cramps. After defeating Australia convincingly, India were defeated 4-1 by a strong Yugoslavian team and then India lost to Bulgaria 0-3 in the bronze medal tie to finish fourth.


Earlier this month, this writer had the opportunity to visit the world’s sporting capital and march down the same path taken by so many icons of the past and present. The overall experience—from being at the centre of the world’s sporting capital to paying tribute at the hallowed turf where the Blue Tigers created history—was nothing short of a pilgrimage for an ardent sports fan.

The journey began by alighting at Jolimont railway station, from where you get a first glimpse of the majestic MCG. Walking through Yarra Park, you are welcomed to the ‘G by two imposing statues of Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee, both in full flight of their legendary bowling actions. A tour of the stadium and a visit to the excellent Australian Sports Museum are a must for any fan making the trip and I spent a good part of three hours taking it all in.

Continuing south, I crossed the adjoining railway tracks using the footbridge and landed bang in the middle of Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open. With the tournament’s start around the corner, the place was bustling with energy as the stage was being set for the calendar year’s first tennis Grand Slam. While the main courts were not accessible for tourists, walking past the venues named after the great Rod Laver and Margaret Court and seeing the flush blue turf of the smaller courts was a treat in itself.

Exiting the tennis district, I headed further south, gathering pace as another swashbuckling stadium entered my eyeline. I crossed the super-busy Olympic Boulevard and went past the Olympic Rings installed on the road, reaching AAMI Park, one more world-class multi-sport facility that was one of the venues for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 and is the home of A-League side Melbourne City FC.

Adjacent to the stadium was the destination I was most excited to see all along – the Olympic Park Oval. Incredibly, it now stands as a quaint public ground with a running track and Australian football rules goals on either end, far removed from the intense action of international competitive sport that Melbourne is known for. The ground, used occasionally for training by the local Australian football club Collingwood FC, was empty and the athletics track encircling the field only had a couple of fitness enthusiasts getting a warm-up jog in.

Just as I was about to enter, I came across a fabulous sculpture that immortalises an act of sportsmanship that happened at the same place in 1956. During the Australian mile championship, John Landy stopped to help a fallen Ron Clarke and eventually went on to win the race, but it was his unselfish gesture that overshadowed his victory and became a part of sporting lore.


Moved by the story, I made my way to the centre of the turf and the view was nothing short of spectacular, providing a panorama of the grand neighbouring stadiums along with the city’s tallest skyscrapers. A simple, quiet ground with a light breeze blowing felt like an oasis of calm in Melbourne’s main business district. The sounds of buzzing cars and squawking seagulls filled my ears as I tried to imagine how loud it must have been when 12,000 spectators witnessed an inspired Indian side led by Neville D’Souza’s legendary hat-trick defeating the Aussies 4-2 on their home turf.

According to reports of the time, India showed supreme technical and tactical ability to outclass the muscular Australian side. It must have been an amazing sight – the Blue Tigers running rings around defenders and marching to victory, at what would later become the de-facto home venue for the Socceroos in the years to follow.

The Olympic Park’s, as it was called then, construction began in 1951 and it was used for track and field events, pre-Olympic training, as well as the qualifying round of the Olympic football tournament. It has hosted a total of 34 international matches, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The last game took place in 2000, when Australia played Paraguay in an international friendly.

Along with athletics and football, it has also hosted rugby league, rugby union and motorsports events, as well as musical concerts, with the likes of Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi wowing the audience. In 2012, as domestic teams opted for other home venues, the Olympic Park stadium was demolished and reopened next year as an AFL training ground and public recreation space, as it stands today.

After spending a few minutes of solitude on the field and trying to visualize Krishna Kittu dribbling 40 yards past desperate defenders to score India’s final goal of the match, I paid my final respects to the hallowed ground and left for Richmond station to catch the train to Flinders Street.

With India set to open their AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign against the Socceroos on Saturday, I crossed my fingers on the walk back and hoped that my visit to the Olympic Park Oval could be a lucky charm for Sunil Chhetri and his men, as they aim for another memorable result against the same opponents, this time in Qatar!

Also Read: Lallianzuala Chhangte: We represent 1.4 billion Indians in the national team; we fight for each other and the entire nation

Also Read: Blue Tigers’ trials at top echelon begins with Australia battle

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