Subhash Bhowmick was down in the dumps with no visible light at the end of the tunnel when Pradeep Banerjee gave his career a second lease of life, something he is grateful to this day.
Bhaichung Bhutia endured racist taunts from Mohun Bagan coach Amal Dutta, ahead of the derby match, but Banerjee “soaked up all the pressure and ensured that the boys remain unaffected.”
“There was a lot of hype surrounding the match and Amal da made some unwanted statements but Pradip da did not let the pressure come onto his players,” Bhutia recalled while talking to PTI.
As Banerjee finally lost his battle against prolonged illness, his students wanted to celebrate an accomplished life that their “beloved Pradip Da” lived.
We have had some wonderful memories. Thank you. RIP PK DA pic.twitter.com/rQPB1hxYZz
— Bhaichung Bhutia (@bhaichung15) March 20, 2020
A robust and dreaded right out of 1970s, Bhowmick, who later became an accomplished coach owes his stardom to Banerjee’s skills as a coach that brought out the best in him.
Or Gautam Sarkar, an absolute feisty character who would send those picture perfect passes to Bhowmick as Banerjee watched it from the dugout with a sense of satisfaction.
His best students were stars of 1970s Kolkata maidan and it was a day when they took a trip down memory lane.
“I was kicked out of Mohun Bagan after we lost the Durand Cup final to East Bengal (in 1972). He was the person who picked me up from ‘gutter’ and told me ‘you’re the best player in India, come and play for ‘East Bengal’,” Bhowmick went down the memory lane in an interaction with PTI.
Bhowmick was one of the key faces of East Bengal’s 5-0 demolition of Mohun Bagan on that fateful IFA Shield final on September 29, 1975 .
Just before the tournament, the newly-wed Bhowmick was sent to Darjeeling for a “short break” to rejuvenate.
Known for his vocal tonic, Banerjee spurred Bhowmick about the insults hurled by Mohun Bagan officials and the rest is history as he played like a tiger on the prowl handing Bagan supporters a day that they have lived to regret even after 45 years.
Bhowmick did not find his name in the record win but he was instrumental in setting up the first two goals scored by Surajit Sengputa and Shyam Thapa.
“Death is always sad. His demise has left all of us sad. But the way he was suffering, he did not deserve this pain. For me, Pradipda was dead since the day he left talking about football with me,” an emotional Bhowmick concluded.
We at AFC condole the passing of former Indian Captain, Coach & Technical Director, Mr. Pradip Kumar Banerjee 🙏🏼
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) March 20, 2020
Banerjee also fashioned memorable treble for Mohun Bagan two years later in 1977 and this time it was Subrata Bhattacharya, who attained stardom after three quiet years.
The Mohun Bagan captain was a big let down in the 1977 Calcutta Football League derby, losing 0-2 in front of a packed Eden Gardens.
“The fans would not let us enter the field in protest… Such was the atmosphere,” Bhattacharya recalled.
“The practice would begin at 7.30 am at the Eden Gardens but he would come one hour before and pay extra attention on me, he made him do some different trainings.”
“We went on to defeat East Bengal thrice that season and won the Shield, Rovers and Durand. Nobody dreamt of such a turnaround. Only Pradip Da could do it. He was ahead of his time and crystal clear in his thinking.”
Banerjee’s rivalry with another great coach Amal Datta was well known in Maidan circles but Bhattacharya reckoned that the former knew how to deal with stars and adapt to situations.
“Amalda (Amal Dutta) may have been a great coach and hugely respected for his tactical and aggressive football, But Pradipda had the horses for courses vision. He was sharp and was quick to adapt. It showed in his results. I won 37 of my 58 titles under him.
Former midfielder Sarkar remebered yet another famous win for Mohun Bagan under Banerjee in the 1978 Calcutta Football League.
In his prime, Sarkar was dropped for three-four matches and there was a lot of talk. Sarkar was suffering from giardia, an acute stomach bug that was prevalent in 70’s Kolkata especially among lower middle class who didnt have access to clean drinking water.
“I was panicked, everyone was asking why Gautam Sarkar was not playing. I was indispensable then. But he kept quiet,” Sarkar remembered.
It was just on the eve, Banerjee met Sarkar at the entrance of the club tent.
“Ajker jonno tomake ami rekhechilam (I kept you for tomorrow’s match). I knew you’re ill but you are a big match player. Boro match er raja (King of the big match)”I again had that spark, fire inside me, despite lying low due to my stomach illness. It was as if I was transmitted some supernatural power,” he said recalling how his goalline save paid a huge role in their 1-0 win scored by Shyam Thapa.
He also remembered how Banerjee played a key role to coach Mohun Bagan to a famous 2-2 draw against Pele-studded New York Cosmos.
“I was given an extra responsibility to stop Pele. The whole team put up a vibrant show. He would sit and plan with us with a board. He was way ahead of his time.”
Shyam Thapa, another 70s great remembered his famous bicycle kick under Banerjee’s coaching.
“I had scored the winning goal and the whole of Eden Gardens was on its feet. He gave me a tight hug and the picture is still etched in my memory. He was my only guru,” Thapa said.
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