Thrissur: Former Indian goalkeeper Francis Ignatius aka Jijo, who played for Karnataka in the Santosh Trophy, passed away on Tuesday. He was 56.
Francis, who hailed from Thrissur, died at his workplace in Bengaluru after suffering a heart attack. He was an employee of the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI).
Popularly known as 'Mr Dependable' in soccer circles, he was the second Kerala-born goalkeeper after Victor Manjila to don the national colours.
Tributes pour in
A pall of gloom descended on the football fraternity in Kerala as news of his untimely death spread.
Jijo, as he was affectionately called by his friends and well-wishers, was above six feet in height and was blessed with exceptionally strong arms. His overarm throws would reach the rival goalmouth consistently, remember his former teammates and internationals I M Vijayan and C V Pappachan.
"Francis was a fearless goalkeeper. His height, strength and aerial prowess made him a tough man to get the better of. He was quick and aggressive while handling high balls. He would soar through the air and catch the ball neatly, giving no chance to rival strikers to attempt a header," said Vijayan.
"We have played together for Kerala Police and the Indian team. I have also played against him after he joined ITI. He used to constantly yell instructions or words of encouragement to teammates. That voice still resonates in my ears," he added.
"Francis burst through the ranks of Kerala Police. He was a goalkeeper of international quality. Remarkably, he could maintain that standard throughout his career," said former Kerala Police coach A M Sreedharan.
Francis used to be the one who literally put his hand up when needed for his team, a trait which earned him the moniker 'Mr. Dependable'.
After completing his studies, he joined the Kerala Police Department as a havildar and was a key member of the force's football team.
He was the chief architect of Kerala Police's win against Titanium in the final of the Mammen Mappillai All India Football Tournament, held in Kottayam in 1986. It signalled his arrival on the big stage.
Nothing could separate the two sides in the normal playtime and the penalty shootout, so the game had to be decided by the sudden-death. Francis converted the first kick in the sudden-death before pulling off a superb save to deny Nazeeruddin and propel Kerala Police to a memorable victory.
Francis's heroics under the bar caught the attention of the Bengaluru-based ITI FC who were in search of a good goalkeeper. However, as the Kerala Police authorities did not want to lose a good player like him, they rejected his resignation. Francis was not ready to give up. A legal battle ensued and he obtained a favourable order from the Kerala High Court to quit his job and shift to Bengaluru.
Francis played for Kerala Police between 1984 and 1986. After joining ITI, he represented Karnataka in the Santosh Trophy for several years. His last appearance in the national championship was in 1993.