The Indian volleyball team enjoyed a golden period in the 1970s and '80s, such that it was an Indian who was once declared the best player in Europe - Jimmy George.
Often called the greatest ever volleyball player to have come from India, Jimmy's life was cut short when a truck rammed into his car in Italy, where he had gone to play in the top division of their domestic league in 1987. Indian volleyball lost its prized jewel in one fell swoop, and with this, the sport's golden era also came to a close in the country.
Jimmy represented his state team Kerala at the age of 16 and captained them at 19. At 22, he had already received the Arjuna Award.
Jimmy was a natural on-court, with world-class abilities and amazing jump abilities. Due to his extraordinary volleyball skills and charming personality off the court, Jimmy has become an ideal to many players. In Kerala, one of the hotspots for the sport, he is still revered as a God.
Jimmy used to always seek opportunities to improve his game. After playing for India in two Asian Games (Tehran, 1974 and Bangkok, 1978), Jimmy left the country to play for Abu Dhabi Sports Club. After playing in the UAE for three years, in 1982, Jimmy was presented with an offer to play for the Italian team Pallavolo Treviso. With this, Jimmy became the first Indian volleyball player to play in a European league.
The crowning glory of Jimmy's Indian team came in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, where the team won a bronze medal. Some of the others in this 'dream team' were Cyril Valloor, Abdul Basith, Dalel Singh Ror, Sukhpal Singh, GE Sridharan, K Udayakumar and PV Ramana (PV Sindhu's father).
During his time in Italy, Jimmy played with some of the best players in the world. He experimented with different playing styles during his time here, but unfortunately could pass on very little of his experience to his teammates back home.
Jimmy's last game in India was a dream of his father, where all eight George brothers - including current athletics coach Robert Bobby George - played in one team against a Kerala select side in 1987. The match, which was played in their hometown of Peravoor, ended in favour of the George brothers.
A tragic death remembered daily
Indian volleyball received some brutal news on November 30, 1987, as Jimmy passed away in a road accident in Italy. He had gone there to play for Eurosibo Eurostyle, a first division club in the Italian professional league.
One of Jimmy's teammates at the Italian club, Angelino Frigoni, was driving the car when the accident happened.
Speaking to News9 a few years ago, Frigoni said: "Jimmy was not only an incredible player but a remarkably good human being... Our car was hit by a truck and Jimmy died instantaneously. Three of us were seriously injured. Each of us remembers that day and no day is complete without remembering Jimmy."
Jimmy had made a huge impact during his playing days in Italy and he was honoured by the then Mayor of Montichiari who inaugurated an indoor stadium after Jimmy's name and also wrote a letter that perfectly describes the player and person Jimmy was.
In the letter, the mayor wrote, "Jimmy George has left his high human values and morals not only in the world of sports but also in our whole community, especially among the youth. The dedication of this prestigious stadium to his name should convey a meaningful message of faith in the universal brotherhood.
"Therefore, on this occasion, I would like to express through the high officials to whom this is addressed, our feeling of appraisal and gratitude to the noble Indian people who has offered us, in the figure of Jimmy George, a shining and solid example of high universal values."