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Pele felicitates Mohun Bagan footballers of 1977

In a historic reunion which they may never forget, the Mohun Bagan batch of 1977 on Monday relived their glorious encounter against football legend Pele in an exhibition match 38 years ago, while being felicitated by the “King of Football” himself.

Sharing the stage with Pele, at an event in the Netaji Indoor Stadium here, the Mohun Bagan greats reminisced the rain-drenched September 24, 1977, when Pele and his New York Cosmos club set foot on the hallowed cricket venue Eden Gardens.

Captained by Subrata Bhattacharya, the Bagan side had produced a surprising result. After conceding a goal, they rallied brilliantly to lead 2-1 for a substantial part of the game. But Cosmos finally managed an equaliser and the match finished 2-2.

Called one by one on the stage, the Bagan players were felicitated by the Brazilian great who handed them a memento and a shawl as they all happily posed for a memorable click while a crowd of 5,000-odd cheered lustily.

Former India captain and the then coach of Mohun Bagan, P.K. Banerjee told the audience how he had instructed his defenders not to go for any kind of challenge or tackle on Pele.

“We could not let the legend who had come to play on our soil sustain any kind of injury. So I had instructed my defenders not go for any kind of challenges or tackle on him,” he said.

Banerjee, along with former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, later felicitated Pele with a shawl.

Given the opportunity to ask the legend a question, Bhattacharya sought to know Pele’s idea for improving standard of the sport in India.

“It is important to have exchange of experience. Beside developing the base of the sport, it is also important that the players play in tournaments outside the country,” said Pele, also harping on the need for physical training.

Much like it had created a controversy 38 years back, a question about the penalty decision which had allowed Cosmos to escape the ignominy of losing to the unheralded side, created a flutter during the show.

As soon as the moderator popped the question to the legend, asking if he thought the decision was controversial and the referee had awarded it only because a player like Pele had appealed, former Indian soccer captain-turned-MP Prasun Banerjee rose from his seat asserting the call was legitimate and there was no debate over the decision. Banerjee had played as a midfielder for Mohun Bagan on that day.

In his reply, the Brazilian said: “Everybody makes mistakes in life”, as a thunderous applause reverberated across the stadium.

The likes of Shyam Thapa – who had got onto the scoresheet for Bagan that afternoon, Manas Bhattacharya, Shibaji Banerjee, Dilip Palit among others had their moment of glory catching up with the “Black Pearl” while shutterbugs clicked on incessantly. The only surviving match official Dilip Sen was also felicitated by Pele.

At the beginning of the ceremony Pele was accorded a grand welcome by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Sourav Ganguly.

The Samba magician, who will be completing 75 on October 23 also had an early birthday celebration with a birthday cake — in the shape of the Jules Rimet trophy that Brazil permanently won in 1970 bylifting the World Cup for the third time – while Academy Award winning music composer A.R. Rahaman sang the ‘Happy birthday’ jingle.

Rahaman who has composed the music on the biopic of Pele met the soccer great for the first time in his life.

On the occasion Pele along with Ganguly were handed over the tickets of the International Premier Tennis League match between tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to be played on December 12.