Pele and Mohun Bagan

One of my posts (Mohun Bagan Vs East Bengal) has brought me in contact with a group of young alert and very tech savvy group of fans of Mohun Bagan who have banded themselves into a Yahoo group. One of the founders is Subir Mukherjee who commented on my post and invited me to join them. I did and am daily being entertained by their conversations. It seems to cover everything, from the best way to preserve records and digitize them to what they will be doing over the weekend (some of them will be partying I am glad to say.)
There is now a lively conversation going on about the famous Pele match. This was in 1977 on the 24nd of September (I think). I had the privilege of watching the match as well. I remember that the Statesman had written during the build up to the match that it was ridiculous that Mohun Bagan should play them. Mohun Bagan had lost the Senior Division Football league title that year, losing 0-2 to East Bengal in the derby match. If I remember correctly, there was some nonsense about tennis like score which would put Indian Football to shame and so on.
The excitement was unbelievable. People from all over the country came to see the match and I remember newspapers reporting that rich Arabs Sheikhs (who were pretty exotic those days) had also come to watch. I don’t know whether that was just the fevered imagination of some reporter. But I do remember that I was in the gallery just adjacent to the Club House and I did see Rahul Dev Barman there. (He was a Mohun Bagan fan, I was told).
Big matches were then played at Eden Gardens. The Salt lake Stadium came up only later. The concrete galleries were absolutely jam packed and the sight of the NCC stand packed with seemingly demented youths screaming at every move must have scared even the South American players. However there was no “untoward incident” as used to be common in those days.
Mohun Bagan played magnificently. I can still remember two players particularly. One was Gautam Sarkar who was by far the best on the field on that day. He was instrumental in denying Pele any room to move. Bur even so the greatest player who has ever played football showed why he was a magician. One dribble in the box is still green in my memory. And that brings me to the second hero of the match Sivaji Banerjee. He dived onto his feet and scooped the ball up and the great sportsman that Pele is, he jumped clear so that he did not cause any injury to Sivaji. In today’s football, the striker would have definitely used the opportunity to get rid of this thorn in the flesh!
Another thing I remember was a free kick taken by Pele. It was quite far out , if memory serves midway between the half line and the penalty box. The ball seemed to be going straight to where Sivaji stood ready; at the last moment, the ball swerved across the face of the goal and was entering the far corner when Sivaji dived to somehow send the ball out. I am not sure that I was happy or disappointed that this kick did not end in a goal!
The penalty kick that did us in was awarded on the far side of the field. (the High Court Side) I could not see the action too well( there was no opportunity to see slow motion replays those days) but we were sure that the referee had awarded it to save the face of the mighty Cosmos team so that they did not have to go back home beaten.
Not just Pele we had the opportunity to see many players who had been just names to us. Carlos Alberto was one such. Unfortunately Beckenbauer who was part of the same Cosmos team did not play because of some injury
The next big match that year was the Shield Final where Shyam Thapa dribbled across the face of the East Bengal Goal before scoring in spectacular fashion. And that was the year of the Triple Crown: The IFA Shied, Durand Cup and the Rovers Cup. It is a pity that all these tournaments have fallen by the wayside. The Rovers tournament, is it at all held nowadays?
Coming back to my young friends, I am so happy that the tradition of support ( good or bad, our team is best) continues. They are lucky that they are young in an era when Mohun Bagan rules the roost at least so far as the East Bengal rivals are concerned. I spent my teen years watching defeat after defeat, but we never lost faith and we were rewarded by the revival of the late seventies. There has never been such a bad patch again though we have lost many games, and in recent years we have hit a positively purple patch. Now the main rivals seem to be the Goan teams and I foresee that in the near future, perhaps the rivalry with those teams may replace our rivalry with East Bengal as the driving force.
But Teams may come and teams may go, but The National Club, Mohun Bagan, I pray will go on forever!!

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