He was a member of the illustrious ‘troika’ - P.K. Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, T. Balaram - of Indian football in 60s. And, it is not easy for Balaram to see one of his great teammates, PK as he affectionately calls him, battle for survival.
“It is a bad feeling for all of us who have played with him or seen him later on as a coach. I can tell you his commitment and passion to the sport are something unique. And, more importantly, he was a perfect human being, the way he made the youngsters and seniors in the team feel comfortable was something many of the modern generation stars can learn,” says Balaram in a chat with Sportstar from his Kolkata residence on Wednesday.
“Definitely, it is sad that PK is struggling. Even my other great friend Chuni is not well – he is on a wheel chair and with fading memory. I pray to God they recover soon," the 84-year-old adds.
Balaram notably shared the dressing room with PK during two Olympics and three Asian Games campaigns.
“I had the privilege of being his teammate for two Olympics (1956 and 1960) and three Asian Games (including the gold-medal winning team in 1962). We can rarely see a more complete team man than PK who had amazing speed and ball control,” says the articulate Hyderabadi.
“We played the sport when it was sheer passion and the dignity of playing for the country were the only factors which drove us to the distance. Not the kind of comforts the modern day players can afford to,” he adds.
Balaram added that PK was very adjusting and was not one to complain. “I remember vividly the Indian team's preparatory camp at Goshamahal Ground in Hyderabad before the 1962 Asian Games under the tutelage of the great S.A. Rahim Saab. We had to travel distances, carry our own bedding to sleep on the iron cots. But we never complained. For, our goal was to play for India and bring laurels,” he says.
“And, this is where the presence of PK was truly inspirational. He never ever gave a hint of any discomfort and that helped us to stay focussed,” says the former India striker.
Reflecting on PK as a player, Balaram says he is one of the most complete players he has ever seen. “He was a perfect all-rounder on the field. In those days, no one could think of an Indian team without him,” says the Arjuna Awardee.
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The two-time Olympian also recalls how PK was responsible in him eventually making it to the 1962 Asian Games and go on to win the gold. “After the camp in Hyderabad, we reached Kolkata to fly to Indonesia. I was down with flu and didn’t want to be a burden on the team. So, I informed the concerned that I would not be able to play in the Asiad.
“And, when PK came to know about this, he thundered in his typical tone – even if he (Balaram) is dying, put the body on the flight. We need him. He has enough time to acclimatise to the conditions in Indonesia. That’s how he valued his teammates’ contribution and I was able to make it to be the member of gold-medal winning team,” he recalls.
“The beauty of football in those days was the mutual respect we had for each other. No one was treated as special. I remember innumerable instances on the field when we passed the ball on to the teammates even if he had 10 per cent chances of scoring a goal. We never played for ourselves. Winning for India was the ultimate satisfaction and that is what PK showed to the world,” he concludes.
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