Legendary Indian footballer PK Banerjee passes away

The former striker led the Indian football team at the 1960 Olympics and played a key role in helping them clinch the Asian Games gold in 1962.

One of India’s legendary footballers PK Banerjee has passed away.

Suffering from respiratory problems due to pneumonia and with an underlying history of Parkinson's disease, dementia and heart problem, the 83-year-old had been on life support since March 2.

Pradip Kumar Banerjee is survived by his daughters Paula and Purna and their younger brother Prasun Banerjee, a sitting member of parliament.

“It’s sad to hear that Pradip-da, one of India’s greatest footballers, is no more. His contribution to Indian Football will never be forgotten. I share the grief,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said in a statement.

“He will stay synonymous with the golden generation of Indian Football. Pradip-da, you will remain alive in our hearts.”

Meanwhile, the former Indian skipper Bhaichung Bhutia remembered his former coach as someone who never came under pressure despite being into the role of the head coach of East Bengal.

PK Banerjee was the captain of the Indian football team that played the 1960 Olympics. Photo: AIFF
PK Banerjee was the captain of the Indian football team that played the 1960 Olympics. Photo: AIFFPK Banerjee was the captain of the Indian football team that played the 1960 Olympics. Photo: AIFF

“Pradip da never came under pressure...He did not make any statement unnecessarily against anyone,” Bhaichung Bhutia told the Press Trust of India.

“He was not just a great player and coach, for me, he was also a great human being. He was such a happy man. He was always happy, smiling, full of fun. That was the greatest quality in him. 

“It was so much fun to be around him and to listen to his stories. He was always cool and composed. Even during matches, he wasn't someone who would take the pressure, that reflected on the players,” he added.

PK Banerjee, the star player

Born on June 23, 1936, in the outskirts of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, PK Banerjee's family relocated to Jamshedpur before partition.

The former striker enjoyed the best time of his playing career during the 1960s when he played a vital role in helping the Indian football team to some unprecedented success at the international stage.

PK Banerjee was in top form as he guided the Indian football team to the gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games, just two years after leading the team at the 1960 Olympics.

The Kolkata player would score the opener at the Asiad final in the 19th minute while Jarnail Singh would double India’s advantage for an eventual 2-1 win over South Korea.

The golden era of Indian football also saw the Indian star form a terrific strike partnership alongside Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram, a troika that would later be named the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Indian football.

Another of his bright moments with the Indian national team was a fourth-place finish at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where India beat Australia 4-1.

His heroics also saw him be among the first recipients of the Arjuna Awards after it was constituted in 1961.

The Indian legend would eventually retire in 1967, after having played a total of 84 international matches for the country, pumping in 65 goals during his time.

PK Banerjee, the coach

Post-retirement, PK Banerjee would continue his association with the game as a coach where he took charge of two of the biggest clubs in Indian football -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

The Indian great would start with the Red and Gold brigade, delivering five Calcutta Football League (CFL) titles for them.

Later with Mohun Bagan, PK Banerjee’s tactical acumen shone brightly when he ensured that his side held the American team New York Cosmos to a 2-2 draw in an exhibition match in 1977 that featured the legendary Pele.

That year also saw Bagan win a domestic treble -- IFA Shield, Rovers Cup and Durand Cup.

PK Banerjee’s coaching exploits were not restricted to the domestic circuit alone. The former striker was named the joint coach of the Indian team for the 1970 Asian Games along with GM Basha.

The duo ensured that the team barely put a foot wrong as they returned home with the gold medal from Bangkok. Later, Banerjee would also guide India to a joint triumph at the Singapore Pesta Sukan Cup in 1971.

His contributions were later recognised by the international governing body for football, FIFA, with the FIFA Order of Merit (Centennial), the highest honour by FIFA in 2004.

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