Putting their bitter club rivalries aside, the city’s Big Three football clubs joined in to mourn the loss of Pele, widely regarded as the greatest footballer the planet has ever seen, and remember his magical presence that wowed the metropolis 45 years back.
A pall of gloom descended on Kolkata as people of the football-crazy city woke up to the death of Pele on Friday, following his prolonged battle with colon cancer at a Sao Paulo hospital.
It was a ‘Black Day’ for Mohun Bagan, the country’s only club against whom the three-time World Cup winner played in an exhibition match in the twilight of his glittering career.
The club put their flag at half mast, as their rival clubs East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting in the Kolkata Maidan also followed suit.
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Mohun Bagan secretary Debasish Dutta also announced that they would soon have the ‘Pele Gate’ ready at the club tent.
”We have already declared it and the work will begin soon; hopefully it will be opened to the public soon,” Dutta told PTI.
Dutta recalled the exhibition match at Eden Gardens, which Mohun Bagan nearly won 2-1 before a controversial penalty earned the star-studded Cosmos a 2-2 draw.
”September 24, 1977 is a red-letter day in the club’s history. We represented the country by playing against the New York Cosmos. People knew Mohun Bagan as the ‘only’ football club of India.
”It was a huge turning point in the club’s history. People will come and go but this day will be etched in history forever,” he said.
Later on Friday afternoon, the city’s former players and administrators of the Big Three clubs and West Bengal Sports Minister Aroop Biswas gathered at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium to pay their homage to the ‘King of Football’.
A photo was kept at the stadium lobby where people gathered to pay their tributes, offering flowers and garlanding the Brazilian maestro.
Arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan chiefs were walking together and remembering his legacy.
”Pele is an emperor of world sports. All of us and all the sportsmen and sports lovers of the world are deeply saddened by the loss of the emperor. It is doubtful whether this void will ever be filled. Today, we are delighted to be able to honour Pele,” East Bengal president Dr Pranab Dasgupta told reporters.
Biswas said it was a day of mourning for the football-loving people of the region.
”We have lost the king of football. We’ve seen Maradona, we’ve seen Messi, but Pele is the greatest football player the world has ever seen,” he said.
Former India forward and Mohammedan Sporting football secretary Dipendu Biswas also echoed the sentiments.
”He is the biggest star in sports, a true ‘Mahasamrat’ (king) of football. There is no footballer who is not influenced by him. Recently, we saw giant posters of him, wishing him ‘get well soon’ in the galleries of the Qatar World Cup. It’s the end of an era.” Former India midfielder Prasanta Banerjee, who was part of the 1984 Asian Cup, was shocked to hear the news and also remembered watching the exhibition match from the sidelines.
”I still remember Pele playing against Mohun Bagan in Calcutta, how he played and shot the free kick,” said Banerjee who played for East Bengal then.
The All India Football Federation, meanwhile, declared a seven-day mourning to remember the life and achievements of Pele.
Secretary general Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said, ”We are deeply saddened by the demise of footballing great Pele, and to remember his achievements, we will observe a seven-day mourning. In this period, the AIFF flag will fly at half-mast.” ”India is blessed that Pele has visited us on so many occasions, the last time being in 2018. We all remain grateful to him for these visits,” said Dr Prabhakaran.
Pele always wanted Indian Football to develop and grow and have a bright future. He was someone who had inspired like nobody else in the sport, he said.