The Saviour of In­dian Foot­ball

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

Shibaji Ban­er­jee’s finest mo­ment prob­a­bly came in the first half of the match be­tween Mo­hun Ba­gan AC and New York Cos­mos in Kolkata on Septem­ber 24, 1977. The 80,000-ca­pac­ity crowd at the Eden Gardens wit­nessed the great Pelé dodge his marker and trap the ball, drib­bling his way fu­ri­ously to the home side’s goal­mouth. Ban­er­jee, as the Ba­gan goal­keeper, sim­ply lunged at Pelé’s feet as if the Brazil­ian, his boots or his le­gend did not ex­ist. Not only was a sure goal averted, but one of the bravest saves had been ex­e­cuted (the match end­ing in a 2-2 draw). Ban­er­jee’s life, which ended on Sun­day night at the age of 68, was one save foot­ball fans wish In­dia’s great­est goal­keeper could have made. The duel against Pelé may have been the snap­shot most fans will re­mem­ber Ban­er­jee by. But like in a 90-minute game, value is mea­sured more than just by in­di­vid­ual mo­ments. The fact that Ban­er­jee had not al­lowed a sin­gle goal to be scored by Mo­hun Ba­gan’s arch-ri­vals East Ben­gal from 1977 to 1981 speaks vol­umes about the goalie’s stan­dards of de­fence. He was es­pe­cially good at stop­ping penal­ties, as if the ball knew him well enough to not want to al­ways go past him. Foot­ball may not have reached the lev­els in In­dia that one would have wished for. But thanks to Shibaji Ban­er­jee at the Ba­gan gate, we had the anom­aly of hav­ing a great foot­baller among us.

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