When Calcutta hosted soccer King Pele in 1977

Chennai, Dec 30 (FN Agency) The year was 1977. It was a different world,yet it was the same.The world was largely an analogue one – computers were in theirinfancy, television had just started to make its headway into thehouseholds, no square tablets in the palms of peopl’s hands, nordid people had access to videos of great athletes and theirmagnificent performances. But the love for the beautiful game, and indeed for the globalsuperstars that made the green plot of land their very owncanvas, remained the same. The Dumdum Airport (now christened Netaji Subhash ChandraInternational Airport) in Calcutta felt like a stadium aroundmidnight of September 22, 1977–Pele landed in the town– alongwith his teammates from the New York Cosmos, who were to playan exhibition match against Mohun Bagan towards the end of agoodwill tour of Asia. For the City of Joy, it was a little matter of entertaining a galaxyof superstars like World Cup-winning Brazilian Carlos AlbertoTorres and Italian player Giorgio Chinaglia.

The sole spotlight, however, was on one man – the King, theEmperor–none other than legendry Pele.Former India international Subrata Bhattacharya, who led MohunBagan that afternoon on September 24, 1977, recalled all theexcitement around that match. “The entire credit (for Pele’s visit) should go to Dhiren De (MohunBagan official). He was the one who took the initiative to bringCosmos and Pele to India,” he said. “When we first came to know that we’d play against Pele, we wereall very excited. Cosmos were a very good team, and they even hadother World Cuppers like Carlos Alberto too. We were so overwhelmedthat we even stopped our warm-up before the match just so that wecould watch him.” The late Subhas Bhowmick, the former India striker, was also on thepitch that day against New York Cosmos and was completely awestruck.

“I never thought we were competent enough to play against him. He wasthe King, and we were ordinary subjects of the game. It was a privilege thatI, at least, didn’t deserve. His ball control, heading, right footers and abilityto bring down any defence on its knees was absolutely extraordinary”, Subhas Bhowmick said. “Time and again, he rewrote the grammar of football. We just watched inawe,” Bhowmick had said in an interview. The match itself almost never happened if some reports are to be believed.First, there was the matter of around Rs 17 lakhs which the organisers doledout to have the King come to India and play. To make things more uncertain, Pele himself was reportedly not too pleased with the ground, which hadtaken some battering in the Bengal monsoon. However, the mass hysteria that ensued once the Emperor set foot in theCity of Joy was enthralling, to say the least.