A glorious chapter of Indian football came to an end with the passing of legend Pradip Kumar Banerjee, fondly called PK, on Friday, 20 March. The 83-year-old breathed his last at a private hospital in Kolkata, according to his family sources.
Since January 2020, the former India football captain and coach was suffering due to a number of ailments. He made several trips to the hospital since the start of the year before he was put on life support earlier this month.
First as a player then as a coach, PK’s contribution to Indian football was unparalleled. He is probably the biggest name in Indian football who never played for the Kolkata giants – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal – in his 13-year-long career, which was cut short by recurring injuries.
One of the architects of Indian football’s golden period, PK began his footballing career as a 15-year-old, playing in his first Santosh Trophy match for Bihar before bringing down the curtain as Mohammedan Sporting coach five decades later.
PK: The Footballer
At one glance it would look like PK, the coach, had a better run than PK, the footballer, but if one delves deeper one wouldn’t need convincing that he was one of the greatest footballers to don the Indian jersey.
For PK, it was his international success with the national team that trounced the credentials of his club career. But, one of the biggest highlights of his club career was the fact that PK played for one club for 13 years, where he eventually called it a day.
Barring one year, when he joined Aryan Football Club, PK played for Eastern Railways from 1955 to 1967. It was during his stay; the club reached their pinnacle winning the Calcutta Football League (CFL) in 1958. At that time, it was one of the most prestigious trophies to get your hands on, along with the IFA Shield, the Durand Cup and DCM Trophy.
And to put things into perspective, till 2019, Eastern Railways were the only side to win the CFL title since independence apart from the big three - Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or Mohammedan Sporting. It was only last season, when Peerless FC won the league.
But his biggest legacy as a footballer continues to be his international career. PK had the best possible start to his international career, finishing his debut tournament – a quadrangular competition in Dhaka – as the highest scorer with five goals. PK scored in all the matches in the competition – a brace in his first-ever match against Sri Lanka and also the first goal in the final where India beat Pakistan. India 2-1.
PK was part of the golden period of Indian football – where he partnered Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram to form India’s star-studded attacking line under the talismanic coach Syed Abdul Rahim. With the trio at helm, India won 12 of 16 internationals, which includes the highest point of Indian football - the 1962 Asian Games gold.
Apart from the Jakarta 1962 Asian Games, PK represented India at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, and then the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok.
He was also part of the national team that played at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne – where India finished fourth. And in the next edition in Rome, he went on to captain the side. That was the last time ever an Indian football side played at the Olympics.
Till date, PK continues to hold record for most number of goals by an Indian at the Asian Games, with a tally of six.
After a freak accident during one of the training camps for the Olympic qualifiers in 1963, PK broke his leg and he was never the same. In the next four years he managed only one goal before he called it a day in 1967.
Donning the Coach’s Hat
But the end of the PK – the footballer meant the beginning of yet another glorious chapter in the life of Pradip Kumar Banerjee. From the field, PK moved to the sidelines but his love and passion for the game unchanged.
A FIFA certified coach – PK’s coaching career got a head start when he was appointed as the joint coach of India in 1969. After a bronze at the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok, the Indian side emerged victorious at the Pesta Sukan Cup in Singapore the very next year.
But the best was yet to come. PK was yet to strike big with the Calcutta giants – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. He didn’t have to wait long. East Bengal approached him in the start of 1972 and PK – the coach never looked back.
In his first season with the Red and Gold brigade, he guided them to a quintuple in 1972. The East Bengal side was unbeaten that season – winning the Calcutta Football League, the IFA Shield, the Durand Cup and the Bordoloi Trophy of Assam. The team only conceded a remarkable four goals that season.
The very next season East Bengal under PK beat North Korean clubs Pyongyang City and Dok Ro Gang to win the IFA Shield and the DCM Trophy respectively. It was under the guidance of PK East Bengal annihilated their arch-rival Mohun Bagan 5-0 to win the IFA Shield Final of 1975.
But, the next season saw PK change camps to Mohun Bagan, where he had an equally successful stint as the coach for the next three seasons – guiding Mohun Bagan to Indian football’s first treble in 1977.
Mohun Bagan beat arch-rivals East Bengal to clinch the IFA Shield, which was followed by Rovers Cup triumph against Tata Sports Club. Finally, a win against JCT gave the Green and Marron brigade to bag the Durand and complete a historic treble.
With over 50 trophies as coach and manager at the club and national level, it isn’t a surprise that his coaching career takes precedence over his football career. In fact, PK continues to be the most successful coach at East Bengal and his rich haul of 25 trophies with Mohun Bagan justifies the tag of ‘Mohun Bagan Ratna’ – which he was awarded in 2010.
One of the first recipients of Arjuna Award in 1961, PK’s ability to maintain a healthy and transparent relationship with his players made him such a successful coach. The counselling he offered to his young players during his coaching days was unheard in Indian football at the time.
More than coaching, PK made efforts to mentor the young footballers.
Add to all these qualities, the technical brilliance of PK – the footballer. Indian football has surely become poorer.
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