Kolkata, Sep 9 (IANS) With the legendary Pele set to revisit the football crazy city next month, former Mohun Bagan footballers who turned out against him on a slushy September afternoon here 38 years back, are overcome by nostalgia, relieving the sweet memories of their confrontation with the Samba magician.
It was a rain-drenched September 24, 1977, when Pele and his New York Cosmos club set foot on the hallowed cricket venue Eden Gardens — then also used as a football stadium for vital matches – with over 80,000 raucous fans cheering every move of the then 36-year-old Brazilian.
The match, however, produced a surprising result. After conceding a goal, Mohun Bagan rallied brilliantly to lead 2-1 for a substantial part of the game. But Cosmos finally managed an equaliser and the match finished 2-2.
Bidesh Bose, a fleet footed left out during his playing days, said playing against Pele was a dream-come-true.
“It was like a dream. I had just got into the Mohun Bagan team and was a junior in the side. Before the game the thought of playing against Pele didn’t let me sleep,” a nostalgic Bose told IANS.
He recalled that Pele played the exhibition match overruling objections from his management which was unhappy with the slushy conditions. “I was awestruck. I thought for a moment how do I play against someone like him. Pele here was standing right in front of me. But unfortunately he could not give off his best due to the ground conditions. But we did see flashes of his brilliance,” Bose said.
It was in the 17th minute of the match that Cosmos broke the deadlock as Pele split open the Bagan defence with a crisp pass, and Carlos Alberto tucked the ball in.
“He dragged us towards him and then shifted his position, he broke open the defence with a brilliant pass. Before that he was shouting something to Alberto, maybe suggesting he move forward,” said Pradip Choudhury who along with midfielder Gautam Sarkar was given the task to mark the Brazilian legend.
There were chants of ‘Pele’, ‘Pele’ in the stands but the maestro found it difficult to showcase his skills on the ground. At halftime Bagan led 2-1.
“We were able to bottle him up, but the conditions were unplayable too. But we did see sights that left us mesmerized, the way he was receiving balls, his runs, his shifting. He showed us glimpses of his class,” said Choudhury, who played as a central defender.
Bagan were well served by their goalkeeper Shibaji Banerjee, who pulled off some brilliant saves. Shyam Thapa and Mohammad Habib had scored for Bagan.
Apart from Alberto, Cosmos’ Italian world cupper Giorgio Chinaglia also got onto the scoresheet.
“The match was a turning point too, it helped us regain confidence and we did not have to look back as a team after that. We won the triple crown in domestic football that year,” Banerjee fondly remembered.
“My father had warned me against Pele’s free kicks. He told me ‘let the ball come to you’ and that is what I did. You won’t probably believe but there were nine men in the wall! I also remember diving infront of Pele’s boots to collect a ball. I only survived because of him, if he had not jumped he could have landed on me and broken my neck,” Banerjee said.
“Thirteen years later, he met our coach P.K Banerjee and said he remembered me and compared me to former England goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks. I will fondly remember playing against him and Pele will be in my heart till I die,” he said.
All three yesteryear stars are hoping against hope that they get to see Pele in person again. Pele is scheduled to kickstart a weeklong (October 11-17) trip to India from Kolkata, where he would watch Indian Super League side Atletico de Kolkata’s (ATK) first home match against Kerala Blasters FC on October 13 at the Salt Lake Stadium.
A meeting with cricketing legends Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly is on the cards. While Ganguly is the co-owner of ATK, Tendulkar co-owns the Kerala franchise.
He would also interact with students and educators from NSHM Knowledge Campus, participate in a conversation with Ganguly as well as attend a gala dinner, that includes a charity sports memorabilia auction.