You may earn fame and money by playing and scoring goals for prestigious clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. But I am waiting for that day when you guys will play for India and hoist the tri-colour in every possible football event. It might not bring you money, but it will surely bring you pride.” This was a monologue from a Bengali movie “East Bengal er chele” (Son Of East Bengal); and the person who delivered this monologue was none other than one of the legends of Indian Football, Mr Pradip Kumar Banerjee, popularly known as PK.
Away from the glitz of EPL, Champions League and our very own ISL, there are some football legends who made our country proud on the world stage. But sadly, their contribution towards the game is now totally forgotten by the AIFF and the Indian fans.
The ’50s and early ’60s was a time when Indian football was at its peak and India was considered to be one of the best teams in Asia. This was a time when India witnessed the emergence of the finest generation of footballers of our country. And P.K. Banerjee, a right winger and centre-back, was one of the best.
Early Life and Career
Pradip Kumar Banerjee was born on 23 June 1936, in Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. He studied in Jalpaiguri Zilla School and completed his schooling in Jamshedpur. He made his debut in 1951 at the tender age of 15 when he represented Bihar in the Santosh trophy.
In 1954, he moved to Kolkata and joined the legendary Mohun Bagan. Eastern Railway was where he found home and he spent the rest of his career there. He made his debut for the national team in the 1955 Quadrangular tournament in Dhaka, East Pakistan (now the capital of Bangladesh) at the age of just 19.
He had several offers from the giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, but being the eldest of seven siblings meant that he had to forgo his dream of playing in a big club as job security was his primary concern. He was an unconventional player, a crowd favourite who practiced with a wet ball by kicking it against a wall.
PK represented India in 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where he played a vital role in India thrashing and stunning the hosts Australia 4-2 in the quarterfinals. Even though he wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, he created 3 goals, as a Neville DeSouza hat-trick coupled with a goal from J. Krishnaswamy would cap off one of India’s most famous days in their football history.
The team ended up fourth in the end, a result that remains the highest position India have achieved on the World stage. He then captained India at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he scored an equaliser against the formidable French team in a 1-1 draw. He considers this goal to be one of his memorable goals.
Banerjee represented India in the Asian Games on three different occasions namely, the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games, the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games where India struck gold in football and again in the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games.
The 1962 Asian Games Gold medal remains one of the greatest achievements because of the difficult circumstances in which it was won. The head of the Indian contingent G.L Sodhi had criticised the hosts, Indonesia for excluding both Israel and Taiwan for political reasons. As a result, the crowd was hostile towards India.
In the final against South Korea, the capacity crowd of 100000 booed the Indian team and did not even pay respect to our National Anthem but the team showed remarkable dedication and adaptability to win the final 2-1 against them with Jarnail Singh and PK scoring a goal each.
Apart from that, he represented India thrice at the Merdeka Cup in Kuala Lumpur, where India won silver in 1959 and 1964 and bronze in 1965. His career ended with recurring injuries and he announced his retirement in 1967.
It is said that most of the great players do not find success as a coach. But for PK, he took to the job like a duck to water. Under his guidance, India won a bronze medal in 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, which till date is India’s last triumph in a major international competition. He further coached the national side in Tehran (1974), Delhi (1982) and Seoul (1986) Asian Games.
“Wherever PK goes, trophy follows” was the saying during the 70s. He coached both the Kolkata Giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and both the clubs were glutted with success under his reign. He is the only coach to win the Calcutta Football League (CFL) five times in a row (1972-75 for East Bengal and 1976 for Mohun Bagan).
Under him, East Bengal created the record of becoming the only club to win the CFL in the post-Independence era without conceding a goal in 1972. Mohun Bagan weren’t left disappointed either as P.K. led them to one of their most successful years in their illustrious history when they won the “triple crown” (IFA Shield, Rovers Cup and Durand Cup) in 1977. His hallmark as a coach was that he always involved the crowd in the game. If compared to the modern game, he was like what Mourinho is to Chelsea.
Today he feels bad as despite giving so much to the country, the AIFF doesn’t even enquire about him. The way the senior players are treated makes him and the million football fans wonder whether India would ever shine in the field of football.
– First footballer to be bestowed with the Arjuna award, in 1961, which is given to great achievers in sports in India.
– Bestowed with the Padma Shri award in 1990, one of the highest civilian medals in India.
– Given the Fair Play Award by FIFA (thus becoming the only Indian to be given the honour).
– Awarded the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit in 2004, which implies that PK Banerjee was recognized as the greatest footballer of the 20th Century for India.