Bagan players felicitated, relive memories of Pele

Kolkata, Oct 9 (IANS) Members of the Mohun Bagan outfit of 1977 who had the chance of playing against Brazilian legend Pele, recollected incidents from the match 38 years back amid a glittering ceremony at the NSHM college where they were felicitated here on Friday.

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.

“Yes I feel nostalgic. Before that match we had lost to arch-rivals East Bengal. Life was miserable for us. Dhiren da (Dhiren Dey, legendary Mohun Bagan administrator) asked me if I would want to play against Pele? And then said you cannot beat East Bengal, how can you beat him? But then the match happened and fortunes changed for us (Bagan won three trophies that year).

“If Donald Bradman is god of cricket and Jesse Owens is god of athletics, then Pele is surely the god of football,” former Bagan player Subhash Bhowmick told reporters here.

“What was so astonishing was his consistency and keeping his focus intact for so many years. I had goosebumps thinking that we would play against him.

“Not a single seat was empty that day at the Eden Gardens. Even though the ground conditions were soggy, Pele said he wanted to play and he stayed there for the whole 90 minutes. He was so impressed by Mohammad Habib, later at the dinner he asked: where is your No. 10?,” added Bhowmick.

Pradip Choudhury, who was given the responsibility along with midfielder Gautam Sarkar to mark the legend, too had fond memories of the match.

“I was awestruck. It was like a dream. Later, when I was in the Indian team and we flew to Zambia to play against them, we were very highly rated there because some of us had played against Pele. Indian football became globally recognised just because of that one match,” Choudhury recalled.

“We showed in that match that nothing is impossible. We played with so much passion. And with sheer will force and determination we came out with flying colours,” said Sarkar.

Habib and Shyam Thapa had got onto the scoresheet for Bagan that afternoon.

Speaking at the event, the legendary Thapa said:”People forget that once we had played against Pele. After 38 years we are getting to meet him again. It does feel special. People back then thought we would lose by eight or nine goals playing against such a top class team, but to earn a draw was beyond imagination.”

Cosmos had restored parity in the match via a spot kick. “Pele was brought down in the area but the defender had struck the ball. The referee Laxmi Narayan Ghosh had pointed to the spot from where Cosmos’ Italian world cupper Giorgio Chinaglia scored.

Revisiting the incident, Subrata Bhattacharya, who was Bagan’s captain said: “Pele appealed and Laxmi da awarded the spot kick. Actually the defender had got the ball. Even Pele had said that it was not a penalty.”

Bhattacharya also added that Bagan administrators could have been more spritely about Pele’s visit now and staged an exhibition match where the glorious day of the September 24 afternoon could have been relived.

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