The year 1977 is memorable for various people for various reasons.
It was in 1977 that the 21-month-long oppressive regimen of internal emergency came to an end and was thus worth cherishing. For the people of West Bengal, it heralded the beginning of the 34-year Left Front rule in the State.
The year 1977 was memorable for football fans in Kolkata and a team from the iconic Mohun Bagan club as they saw football royalty in person as the legendary Pele, the three-time World Cup winner, visited the City of Joy for an exhibition match.
Pele visited Calcutta as part of the New York Cosmos team and played an exhibition match against a team from Mohun Bagan, giving fans the opportunity of watching the emperor of world football in action.
The exhibition match happened because of the initiative of the-then assistant general secretary of Mohun Bagan, Late Dhiren Dey, who later became the president of the club and was always considered the most iconic football administrator of the Kolkata football circuit. The match was played in the afternoon of September 24, 1977, at Eden Gardens, which had not been converted into an exclusive cricket field.
Some of the players that represented Mohun Bagan in that match against Cosmos went down memory lane for IANS, recalling watching the man known as ‘The King’, The Black Pearl and Pele in action.
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Speaking to IANS, Bidesh Bose, one of the players for Mohun Bagan in that unforgettable exhibition match and currently a Trinamool Congress legislator, said that because of the muddy condition of the Eden Gardens on that day, the insurers of Cosmos Club initially refused to allow the players to participate in the match.
“Naturally, we got extremely depressed. However, understanding our mental situation, it was Pele who said that he would participate in the match even if for some time. After the match, there was a joint party of the players of the two teams at a hotel in Kolkata. There the undisputed emperor of world football said that some of the players of Mohun Bagan can play in international football tournaments. For me playing against Pele was a dream coming true," Bose said.
Shyam Thapa, who scored one of the goals in that exhibition match which ended in a 2-2 draw, told IANS, that it was the desire to play against Pele that prompted him to join Mohun Bagan, leaving arch-rival East Bengal Club.
“When Dhiren Dey offered handsome money to join Mohun Bagan, I refused to quit East Bengal, since I started my football career there. But when Dhiren Dey promised me a position in Mohun Bagan in the match against Cosmos, I did not hesitate to quit East Bengal. That’s the time I had to go underground to hide from the East Bengal supporters before ultimately signing for Mohun Bagan," Thapa said.
He also has sweet memories of his interaction with Pele at a post-match party at a Kolkata hotel.
“When I introduced myself and said that I was a scorer in the match, he jokingly said that ‘he would not shake hands with me’. I was nervous. The very next moment he hugged me and asked for my jersey number. When I said that my jersey number was 22, the football emperor said that he will always remember this jersey number because of the goal scored against his team," Thapa added.
Right-stopper-back Subrata Bhattacharya, who captained Mohun Bagan in that match said, Cosmos were lucky to draw that match as they equalised on a move that should have been ruled offside.
“The second goal in the match that Cosmos scored was clearly from offside. Even during the match, Pele acknowledged that. But since it was an exhibition match, we did not make any issue of it. After the match, there was a party for the players of both teams. As the captain of Mohun Bagan then, I went to Pele’s room in the hotel to escort him to the party room. When I knocked at his door seeming me, he said, “Come in captain."
Such memories can never fade, said Bhattacharya.
Gautam Sarkar, who played as a midfielder in that match, said he was assigned the crucial task of marking Pele.
“As a midfielder, my task in that crucial game was to mark Pele throughout the match. My jersey number was 14. I tried to do my task to my best. In the post-match party at the Kolkata Hotel when I was introduced to Pele, he appreciated my efforts and said in public -‘This player in jersey number 14 did not allow me to play my natural game’. I was surprised by the humility of the great man," said Sarkar.
Indeed, all the Mohun Bagan players that played against Pele will cherish such memorable moments with Pele for their entire life.
He will remain the King for them forever.
Read all the Latest Sports News here(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed - IANS)