Pioneers of Goa #1: Yolanda D’Souza, Juliana Colaco and Succorinha Pereira

“Should I score?”

It was an unusual question coming from a footballer. The circumstances were anything but straightforward when Succorinha Pereira posed the question to strike partner Yolanda D’Souza.

Goa were leading Madhya Pradesh by 25 goals at the third National Football Championship for women held at the Bandodkar Stadium in Campal when the left-out asked her strike partner whether she should put the ball in the net.

The tiny Western Indian state would host and dominate the Championship, scoring a total of 49 goals. Among them, Succorinha (19) and Yolanda (18) would account for a total of 37 strikes.

Forty-three years later, it remains Goa’s finest triumph at the national level, having lost 2-0 to Tamil Nadu in the group stage in 2019. The Goan women did not participate in the first championships in 1975, but when they finally did make their debut at Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh the following year, Yolanda and Goa set the stage on fire.

Yolanda (now Yolanda Sousa Kammermeier), known as the Hat-trick queen, would bag two three-goal hauls that tournament, and 15 strikes in all but the title proved to be a step too far for Goa, losing 1-0 in the final to a Bengal team boasting 8 internationals in their ranks.

The following year, 17,000 turned up at Campal to see Goa sweep Bengal aside 3-0 in the final to lift the Pinjore Trophy. “A friend of mine had come to Sultanpur the previous year. He was a huge Dilip Kumar fan but decided against watching his movie in order to see Goa win the championships. We couldn’t win that year, so we absolutely had to do as hosts,” recalls Yolanda.

Sucorina, Juliana Gurjao nee Colaco, Helen Fernandes, Yolanda and Rekha Karapukar were the five Goan women selected for the Indian team to play against a visiting Swedish team B.K.Women’s Football XI in 1976. With crowds of upto 40,000 attending the games, the hosts lost only one of their 9 games against the visitors, drawing 1 and winning the rest. The Swedes earned their only win – a 2-1 win in Pune after having borrowed a keeper, Roma Das, after several of the visitors had been ruled out with upset stomachs.

They did well against other visitors as well, beating Tiverton Ladies Club from England 3-0. The five Goan women were once again a part of the squad, as India won 8 of their 10 matches against the English ladies. “It helped that we were multi-disciplinary. We weren’t restricted to just one sport, but started with hockey,” says Juliana Colaco. She was part of Goa’s two-woman midfield alongside Karapurkar, who died in 2001 after losing a battle with cancer.

Yolanda and Juliana would represent Goa at the hockey nationals, beating “much stronger teams with regularity”, according to Juliana. Succorinha would represent Goa in athletics, winning medals in throwing events long after hanging up her boots.

A popular origin story of Goan women’s football is that it started at an Adams versus Eves match at the Police ground in Panjim in 1973. The Eves won 3-1, thanks to a brace from Clara Gonsalves and a Yolanda goal.

Sucorina disputes this, as do Yolanda and Juliana. “We used to play regularly against the men. That was neither a one-off nor the first recorded game. The first match was between Calangute and Candolim, in which Yolanda scored a hat-trick,” recalls Succorinha.

The two teams, along with 6 others, would play the Goa Women’s League, the first league for women anywhere in the country. Calangute was the strongest team around, with 8 players in Goa’s starting XI. The rest, according to Juliana were herself, Succorinha and Rekha.

In fact, Calangute was so strong that it forced Candolim to merge with Panjim to form a ‘PanCam’ team. The merged team, featuring Rekha and Juliana, still could not stop Calangute, who ran away easy winners.

On the national front, Yolanda’s hat-trick against the Swedes meant that she bagged three goals in her first domestic and international fixtures. Yolanda, Juliana and Succorinha all featured as India finished runners-up at the 5th Asian Women’s Cup in Thailand.

“Taipei were the strongest team in Asia back then. They won both the 2nd and 3rd Asian Cups, while we finished runners-up both times. I was also a part of the 4th edition, when India finished in 3rd place,” says Juliana.

Although a stand-out achievement, their exploits in the Asian Cup were arguably bettered by their efforts in a tournament that was the fore-runner of the Women’s World Cup. The Women’s World Invitational Tournament held in Chinese Taipei for the second time in 1981 saw 14 teams participate.

India, drawn with eventual champions SSG Bergisch Gladbach from West Germany held them to a draw but were knocked out after playing 3 successive games in as many days.  “Given more time to train together and better squad depth, we could have done even better. The coach assigned to us didn’t take the tournament too seriously either,” Yolanda adds with a glint in her eye.

Goan women’s football would never hit those lofty peaks again. The trio played their National Championships together for the last time in 1979. Goa once again finished as runners-up, as they did at Lucknow a year later, losing by a solitary goal to Bengal in the final.

Powerhouses like Manipur and Odisha had begun to spring up, the former especially changing the face of women’s football in India for good, winning 20 out of 25 national titles.

Juliana puts this down to the fact that game-time for Goan women isn’t as frequent as it was in previously. “We went to Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taipei to play matches. Every village tournament previously used to have a women’s match prior to the final. We used to have our own league which ran successfully for many years,” she adds.

The Goa Women’s Football Association, under the auspices of President Vijayadevi Rane worked hard to change the face of the women’s game in the state in the 70’s, say the three legends. “They took charge before the 2nd nationals and within a week, selection was complete. Our coach (Joao de Melo) tended to us really well and both the state (GWFA) and national (WFFI) bodies supported us whole-heartedly,” recalls Succorinha.

Yolanda, after her stupendous exploits for club and country, would hang her boots up in 1981 after suffering an injury. The Women’s World Invitational Tournament would be her last rodeo in Indian colours.

She followed her other passion – art to the fullest and the Art Chamber at Calangute is testament to Yolanda’s passion. “I wanted to pursue art from the beginning. I went to Arts College in Panjim but almost quit as they had no sports syllabus. It was never a question of football or art. It was both,” she exclaims with a laugh.

Succorinha after earning a degree in physical education would become a teacher in the same discipline but never gave up her love of athletics. She occasionally picks up the Javelin from time to time, hurling it long.

Juliana went into administration, first in the GFA and later the AIFF’s Women’s Committee, also serving as manager of the Indian women’s team for two years. She would retire in 1984, after playing her last nationals.

The three, along with Rekha, revolutionised women’s football in Goa and were very much the pioneers. As Yolanda says, “We didn’t fear anybody. We played men, women, domestic teams, national teams; we didn’t really distinguish between opponents when it came to football. We were tough.”

Anyone who watched the trio play in their prime would find it hard to argue.

This is the first in a series of articles titled ‘Pioneers of Goa’.