THE departure of PK Banerjee has taken away a golden hero of Indian football. He will be fondly remembered as Indian football’s Goliath but PK Banerjee’s career went much beyond soccer, leaving a legacy that deserves rich tributes from the sporting world. Calling it a huge loss of football would be looking at life in a myopic way, for, Pradipda had carved his place in the psyche of lovers of sports of any discipline, any form. Banerjee was a synonym for Indian football, being part of the holy trinity he formed along with Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram.
He was the last surviving scorer of the history making 1962 Asiad gold-winning team. The grand old man had already marked his place in Indian football’s history as one of the greatest on the sheer dint of his dazzling skills and terrific ability to read match situations. Years later, till his last breath, even as Indian football took big strides with the younger crop taking over the mantle, Banerjee held his rightful place as the lamp-post helping newcomers find the right path.
What stood out in Banerjee’s brilliant life on Kolkata’s Maidan was the spirit he poured into the game. Be it as a rookie making debut in Santosh Trophy for Bihar, to leading East Bengal’s title-hunting team, to captaining the Indian team in the Olympics, to coaching Mohun Bagan, it was the ‘PK Banerjee Tonic’ that would pump up his mates for greater goods. He brought a distinct character to leadership being the best buddy of players, a guiding angel for newcomers, and a superb talent hunter. Kolkata’s football is flush with stories of how their Pradipda nurtured rookies by first shielding them from the ever-demanding fans and then putting them in a match situation where they always delivered their best to become hero for the crowd. This trait is still revered by his wards many of whom played for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and the national team. He had a cunning knack of winning over players who carried elephantine egos but shed it without notice in Banerjee’s company.
It was this ability of being a ‘Man Manager’ that set Banerjee apart from the others of his ilk. PK Banerjee’s career, his record, and his stories will continue to serve as an inspiration for generations to come. The comebacks he scripted through his “dose” will be recalled in various dressing rooms. The essence he attached to the game will make fond memories in the soccer-crazy Bengal, for, Banerjee had epitomised everything that Bengalis loved. Football fraternity must carry forward the journey on the path that Pradipda opened for them through his selfless service to the game. The legacy created by the footballing colossus makes it a moral responsibility for players to take it further.