When Pele Was Left Mesmerised In ‘Football Capital’ Of India

Kolkata, Dec 29 (AwareEarth) Before Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ moment sparked the excitement for football across this region Brazilian superstar Pele kicked off Bengal’s first tryst by introducing the beautiful game

Before Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ moment sparked the interest in football throughout the region it was Brazilian legend Pele who started Bengal’s attempt to win with the ‘beautiful sport’. In the match against Mohun Bagan in the slushy, packed Eden Gardens on September 24 1977, at the end of his career Pele, a Three-time World Cup winner was overwhelmed by the talent that a “little known” Indian club had. In desperate search of a comeback following the dominance of arch-rivals East Bengal, the PK Banerjee-coached Mariners were able to stop the “King of Football’ from scoring one goal, they nearly won 2-1 before an unpopular penalty led to 2-2 against the dazzling New York Cosmos.

When Pele Was Left Mesmerised In 'Football Capital' Of India
When Pele Was Left Mesmerised In ‘Football Capital’ Of India

 

PK had assigned midfielder Gautam Sarkar the job of marking Pele and participating in the match of his life. and he did it with aplomb which was later recognized by Pele himself.

At night, Mohun Bagan had organised an event to celebrate Pele in which he was expected to receive an engagement ring with diamonds however, the “Black Pearl wanted to be more interested in meeting the athletes first.

Goalkeeper Shibaji Banerjee was the first name on the list.

The announcement of the name for the sixth-placed player, Pele in the midst of crowds of people stood up from the barricade to hug the player.

“Sporting a wry smile he told me, ‘So, you are that number 14 who did not allow me to move …’ I was left awe-struck,” Sarkar recalls the moment clearly even after nearly 45 years.

“Chunida (Chuni Goswami) was there standing beside me on the Dias and heard all this. He soon told me: ‘Gautam you now give up football — what’s there to achieve after hearing this compliment’. Indeed, this was the biggest achievement of my football career.” “I don’t want to boast about myself, but according to a newspaper report, my photo is still hanging in the New York Cosmos club. He was so overwhelmed by our play that he wanted to meet the players first. Never thought a club team from a country like India would play like this.” The game could be seen in the light of day thanks to the efforts taken by Dhiren Dey, a well-known football manager in Kolkata Maidan and later as the Mohun Bagan in the role of general secretary.

“It seemed unreal when Dhirenda told us that Pele would play against us. We all told him to ‘stop lying, it’s unbelievable’. But as days passed and we got to know about it, we all had sleepless nights,” Sarkar stated to PTI.

When Pele Was Left Mesmerised In 'Football Capital' Of India
When Pele Was Left Mesmerised In ‘Football Capital’ Of India

The preparation began three weeks ahead and Mohun Bagan was required to prove his point.

“The prospect of playing against Pele was one of the reasons why I moved from East Bengal to Mohun Bagan. As it happened, it all changed our club’s fortune,” Shyam Thapa who was famously the one to give Mohun Bagan its lead.

The next day, Mohun Bagan was to play East Bengal in the coveted IFA Shield final and it transpired that the Mariners beat East Bengal 1-0 to end their rivals’ title streak of winning.

“It was a platform for us to revive our fortunes. The result gave us much-needed confidence to face East Bengal. We found our mojo back,” the well-known Mohun Bagan defender Subrata Bhattacharya remembers.

They continued their revival when they won two more cups: the Rovers Cup and Durand Cup.

“We wanted to give everything in the field. The match helped us grow as a team,” said the Mohun Bagan midfielder Prasun Banerjee currently is a TMC participant in Parliament.

The most likely opportunity for Pele to score came from a free kick from high up in the field. The ball rose before spinning toward the left upright before it was saved by falling Shibaji Banerjee.

Pele visited the city seven years ago during the holiday season during Durga Puja, this time with a walking stick. However, his charisma had left people in awe, including the city’s iconic cricketer Sourav Ganguly who is a self-described Brazil lover.

“I’ve played three World Cups. There’s a big difference between being a winner and a runner-up. To hold that World Cup and a few Golden Boots must be phenomenal,” Ganguly stated in awe at the great man at the celebration ceremony held at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.

Pele also got together along with the Mohun Bagan batch of 1977 which included legends like PK, Subhash Bhowmick and Shibaji Banerjee, who are no anymore.

“I accepted to come here in India because I love the people here,” Pele stated.

Pele, the King of football showed his humour intact, and he gave a jolly response when a fan in the crowd asked him if he could be a second Pele.

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“Listen, I’m sorry. My father and my mother closed the machine. There will be no other Pele.” His final words before he signed his departure were “If I can help in some way, I’ll be here again.”

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