When Pele was left mesmerised in ‘football capital’ of India | Football News

KOLKATA: Long before Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ moment sparked football passion in the region, it was the Brazilian maestro Pele who started Bengal’s date with the ‘beautiful game’.
Playing against Mohun Bagan on a muddy, packed Eden Gardens on September 24, 1977 at the twilight of his career, the three-time World Cup winner was overwhelmed by the depth of talent a ‘little-known’ Indian club possessed.
Desperate for revival after the dominance of their East Bengal rivals, PK Banerjee-coached Mariners not only kept the ‘King of Football’ from scoring a goal, but nearly won 2-1 before a controversial penalty kicked out. make it a 2-2. draw against the star-studded New York Cosmos.
PK had given midfielder Gautam Sarkar the big task of scoring the man Pele and playing in the dream match of his life, he had given it his all, which was later acknowledged by the legend himself.
In the evening, Mohun Bagan had organized a congratulation ceremony for Pele where he was to be presented with a diamond ring but the ‘Black Pearl’ was more interested in meeting the players first.
Goalkeeper Shibaji Banerjee was first on the list.
When the name of the sixth player was announced, Pelé, surrounded by a galaxy of people, came out of the barricade and hugged the player.
“With a wry smile, he said to me: ‘So you’re that number 14 who didn’t allow me to move…’ I was impressed,” Sarkar recalls vividly of that evening, even after 45 years. .
“Chunida (Chuni Goswami) was there standing next to me on the dias and heard all this. He quickly said to me, ‘Gautam, you are giving up football now – what is there achieve after hearing that compliment’. Indeed, it was the greatest achievement of my footballing career.”
“I don’t want to brag about myself, but according to a newspaper article, my picture still hangs at the New York Cosmos club. He was so upset with our game that he wanted to meet the players first. Never thought that a club team from a country like India would play like that.”
The exhibition game came about through the initiative of Dhiren Dey, a revered football administrator in Kolkata Maidan, who then headed Mohun Bagan as general secretary.
“It seemed unreal when Dhirenda told us that Pelé would play against us. We all told him to ‘stop lying, it’s unbelievable’.
Preparation started three weeks in advance and Mohun Bagan needed to prove a point.
“The prospect of playing against Pele was one of the reasons why I left East Bengal for Mohun Bagan. In this case, everything changed the fortunes of our club,” said Shyam Thapa, who gave head to Mohun Bagan.
Four days later, Mohun Bagan was due to play against East Bengal in the coveted IFA Shield final and it turned out the Mariners won 1-0, ending their rivals’ winning streak.
“It was a platform for us to revive our fortunes. The result gave us the confidence we needed to face East Bengal. We got our mojo back,” recalls well-known Mohun defender Subrata Bhattacharya Bagan.
They continued their renaissance by winning the Rovers Cup and the Durand Cup.
“We wanted to give our all on the pitch. The game helped us grow as a team,” said Prasun Banerjee, then midfielder for Mohun Bagan, now a TMC MP.
Pele’s best chance to score came from a free kick from the top of the box. The ball rose and raced up the left upright before being saved by a dive from Shibaji Banerjee.
Pele revisited the city seven years ago during the Durga Puja holiday season, this time with a cane, but his aura had left everyone spellbound, including the city’s cricketing icon Sourav Ganguly, a self-proclaimed fan of Brazil.
“I have played in three World Cups. There is a big difference between being a winner and being a runner-up. To organize this World Cup and some Golden Boots must be phenomenal,” said Ganguly, amazed by the big man during the ceremony. of congratulation. at the Netaji indoor stadium.
Pelé also reunited with the Mohun Bagan band from 1977, including the legendary PK, Subhash Bhowmick and Shibaji Banerjee who are no more.
“I agreed to come here to India because I like the people here,” Pele said.
The soccer king also had his sense of humor intact and gave a cheeky response when someone on the show asked if there could be another Pele.
“Look, I’m sorry. My father and my mother shut down the machine. There won’t be another Pelé.”
His last words before signing were: “If I can help in any way, I’ll be here again.”


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