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Date with Pele

It was a trip down memory lane, literally, for the former India football captain Victor Amalraj on a recent visit to Kolkata, once the Mecca of Indian football.

The 56-year-old Hyderabadi has every reason to look back on that visit with a sense of pride as it gave him the chance to meet the Brazilian football legend Pele. On the occasion, Amalraj happened to be the only Hyderabadi to have led all three famous clubs of Kolkata – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammadan Sporting.

Ironically, Amalraj joined Mohun Bagan a year after the team played an exhibition match against Cosmos Club which included the great Pele. “When I look back, I always feel disappointed at missing the huge opportunity. It would have been an experience for a lifetime,” he says. But, as if to make amends for missing the date with history on that historic occasion, Amalraj joined two other footballers of his time – Babu Mani and Ulaganathan – to be party to Mohun Bagan team which was invited for the felicitation of Pele. This was actually organised by the management of Athletico de Kolkata thanks to the initiative of former India cricket captain Saurav Ganguly.

It is a pity that another illustrious Hyderabadi, Mohd Habib, who actually played for Mohun Bagan in that exhibition match against Cosmos and even scored a goal in the two-all draw match, could not make it to the function as he was indisposed.

“Arguably, meeting Pele was one of the finest moments of my career. It is like a cricketer trying to master the basics of the sport meeting a legend like Sachin Tendulkar in cricket,” says a visibly delighted Amalraj. Not surprisingly, this famous former linkman is trying to string together pieces of memory from his golden days with the Kolkata Clubs. “The kind of respect footballers – even those who played in 70s and 80s – have even now is really amazing. We are mobbed whenever we visit the great Maidan,” reminds Amalraj.With the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself being present, the event has had its lustre enhanced.

“I sincerely hope that school football will be a given huge fillip in the days to come to ensure there is an assembly line of talent as suggested by the great Pele at the function,” feels Amalraj, adding “We were stumped by Pele’s sense of humour. When asked why there is no second Pele after him, he had the audience in splits when he said that his parents stopped producing another one,” the former India captain recalled.

It was nostalgia all around as the great P.K. Banerjee, who was the coach of the Mohun Bagan team which took on Cosmos, too gave an insight into the greatness of Pele and made some general observations about Indian football too.

But, what about football back home in Hyderabad? “Yes, there is something positive what with the leagues being organised after a long gap. Let us hope for the best and wish to see the glory days of Hyderabad football revived,” signs off Amalraj.

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