New Delhi: He could pack a punch in 35 yard pile drivers as a player, mix emotional quotient in tactical moves, and regale any audience with unheard stories. PK Banerjee will forever remain more than a sum total of his parts in Indian football’s golden folklore.
One of the greatest Indian footballers, who dazzled as a player in the ‘Swinging 60s’ and was probably the most sought-after coach during ‘Those 70s Show’ of Kolkata maidan, ‘PK’, or, Pradeep ‘Da’ to one and all, is an enduring love story that will not end even in his death.
Two Olympics (Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960), three Asian Games (58, 62, 66), gold medal as a player and bronze as a coach (1970 Bangkok) in his first big tournament, his credentials remains unmatched and are unlikely to be emulated.
PK was not just a player but a character who epitomised everything that Bengalis loved over the years.
Good football, great stories and everlasting bond.
Kabir Suman, the man who brought about a renessaince in Bengali music in the early 90s, through his unforgettable number ‘Ei Shohor Jane Amar Prothom Sobkichu’ (This city knows my every firsts) had a couple of lines appropriate for a player of such calibre.
“My first game of football beside the Rabindra Sarobar Lake when photos of Sailen Manna, PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami were treasured possession.”
The particular lyric speaks about how PK, for the last 50 years, was ingrained in the quintessential Bengali’s collective conscience.
So how big a player was PK? There are no video recordings of his playing days but just imagine a player scoring against Japan and South Korea in a single edition of Asian Games.
“I don’t think anyone had more power in his shots as Pradeep and that kind of with the ball speed down the flanks. And add to it, terrific ability to read match situations,” his best friend and skipper of the 1962 Gold winning team Chuni Goswami had once said in an old interview.
It was his match reading ability that made Banerjee one of India’s greatest football coaches from the 70s to 90s.
Probably he was India’s first ‘football manager’ when the term was not in vogue in this part of the world.
Talk to any of his wards who played for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or India, they would tell you that he was a pro at handling gigantic egos in his own inimitable style and get the best out of them.
Be it the temperamental duo of Subhash Bhowmick or Gautam Sarkar or the moody Samaresh Chowdhury or the bullish Mohammed Habib, he had a specific “dose” for everyone.
They were great players who needed a great ‘Man Manager’.
The big derby days during the 70s — be it an IFA Shield final at the Eden Gardens or the Durand summit clash at the Ambedkar or the Rovers Cup at the Cooperage — any match in which he was coaching one of the sides was an event in itself.
His ‘vocal tonic’, as they popularly referred it in the Maidans, is stuff of legends.
So what was vocal tonic? A former East Bengal legend known for his bicycle kicks recalled a game in the 70s when the team was trailing.
“Pradeep Da would keep an East Bengal Jersey on the floor and show it to us and say ‘Look at that jersey. It’s your mother and some people are making fun of your mother and you guys are doing nothing’.
“The next thing we knew was we were so charged that we scored twice in the second half. It might not work now but it worked for us in 1970s when emotions played a big part,” he had said in 2010.
Prior to the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final, a match that attracted 120,000 people at the Salt Lake Stadium, erstwhile Mohun Bagan coach Amal Datta had mocked a young Bhaichung Bhutia, calling him ‘Chung Chung Bhutia’.
PK used the derogatory remark by Datta to fire up Bhutia who scored a hat-trick in that game.
Such was his oratory skills that before the 1990 Ranji Trophy final against Delhi, Bengal captain Sambaran Banerjee called him to the dressing room to address his players for an hour. It worked.
An unbelievable raconteur, legend has it that he could even invoke a smile off a very serious late Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.
With his demise, Kolkata Maidan, which many feel is fast losing its character, lost one of its very own.