Kolkata: Some have gone bald, and most have gone grey. Some wear spectacles now while a few have gone bulky beyond belief. But, then, they share the same memories – memories that set them apart.
Meet the Mohun Bagan ‘boys’ who made history in 1977 by playing football with Pele.
Left to right: Former Mohun Bagan players Shyam Thapa, Shibaji Banerjee, Subhas Bhowmick and Pradip Chowdhury get nostalgic at the NSHM campus in Kolkata yesterday
“Our lives were miserable after a loss to arch-rivals East Bengal when, like a dream, this happened,” gushed Subhas Bhowmick on Friday, recalling that September showdown against the New York Cosmos at a rain-drenched Eden Gardens. “The insurance man was trying to dissuade the ‘God of Football’ from taking the field but he stepped out of the dressing room, saw the packed stadium, and said: ‘I will have to play; I can’t let these fans down’.”
“That day is still like a dream,” said Pradip Chowdhury, joining the discussion at the NSHM campus. “It’s great that we will get to meet the man again,” he added. Pele will be in the city next week.
Gautam Sarkar, fondly called the ‘Beckenbauer of Maidan’ those days, brought his famous combativeness. “Yes, they had Pele and some other world class players but we didn’t take a step backwards that day,” he said of the 2-2 draw. “The coach (PK Banerjee) asked me to mark Pele in midfield, and he fooled me with a feint just after kick-off. I was very angry with myself and it pushed me to give my all from there on,” he added.
Everyone remembered the man. “He was so humble and friendly and hugged us when we met at the banquet later in the evening. He even asked me ‘Aren’t you the No.11?’,” remembered left-winger Bidesh Bose. Shibaji Banerjee, the goalkeeper who hogged the limelight by pulling off a couple of saves from Pele attempts, spoke of how that match also proved to be a turning point. “We won the ‘triple crown’ (IFA Shield, Durand Cup and Rovers Cup) and about everything else after that,” he smiled. “I came back to my scoring form,” butted in Shyam Thapa, who slipped in one of the goals.
By the end of the trek down memory lane, everyone had agreed that Mohun Bagan were 2-1 winners. “Even Pele told the ref that the penalty award was wrong,” someone quipped.