Tributes poured in today for former national goalkeeper Shibaji Banerjee who died last night after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Legendary P K Banerjee, who was Mohun Bagan coach during Banerjee’s world famous save against Pele for New York Cosmos in 1977, led the tributes and also remembered his gentle demeanour off the field.
“I am shocked and disturbed after hearing this sad news this morning. I didn’t know about this yesterday as I returned from Durgapur late at night. He was a thorough gentleman. He always occupied a special place in my heart. I’ve so many memories of him but one that stood out was his performance against New York Cosmos. He became famous overnight after his brilliant display against Pele in the exhibition match,” P K Banerjee said.
“It was less than a month back I had met him at a birthday celebration of a Mohun Bagan official. He looked perfectly alright and always kept on smiling. Never did I think that he would depart so soon,” Banerjee said of his former ward.
Banerjee’s former teammate Goutam Sarkar remembered his acrobatic saves, particularly during spot kicks and how he earned a repute as a great shot-stopper when it came to penalties.
“He was so smart under the bar that he always deceived the shoot to hit the wrong way. He was a master of 5-5 penalty shootout,” Sarkar said recollecting Banerjee’s exploits in the Federation Cup 1980 semifinal against Mohammedan Sporting in a season they won the trophy jointly with East Bengal.
“We were trailing 0-1 and I remember our coach (Arun Ghosh) saying he will attempt suicide if we lose to Mohammedan Sporting. I went on to score the equaliser but that was not enough.
“It was Shibaji who did the star act by denying the penalties from Akbar and Amalraj. He was an expert in fooling the shooters with his intelligent body language. I would rate him as one of the master spotkick stoppers.”
He further said Shibaji was not intimidated by the presence of Pele while denying the Brazillian legend from a one-on-one tackle.
“He became world famous for his acrobatic save against Pele in the first-half of the match. Above all this, he walked without any arrogance and ego. I never in my life seen him angry or retaliate… He always would respond with a warm affectionate hug and win our hearts. We all will die one day but till we live we will have his name in our minds.”
The Mohun Bagan legend, who had played for the club for 11 seasons donned national colours from 1972-81.
The All India Football Federation also condoled his death and president Praful Patel said: “It is sad to hear that we lost Shibaji Banerjee untimely due to a sudden heart-attack. He was one of the greatest goalkeepers, especially during the spot-kicks. May his soul rest in peace.”
“He was one of the finest Indian goalkeepers to have played the game. Neither of us could forget his plucky performance against Pele. May his soul rest in peace,” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said.
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