Olympian P. K. Banerjee passes away

Legendary Indian footballer P. K. Banerjee, who had been battling a respiratory problem due to pneumonia, passed away in Kolkata on Friday.

File photo: P. K. Banerjee’s contribution to Indian football was recognised by FIFA in 2004.

File photo: P. K. Banerjee’s contribution to Indian football was recognised by FIFA in 2004.   -  G.P SAMPATH KUMAR

Two-time Olympian P.K. Banerjee, one of India's greatest footballers, passed away here on Friday following prolonged illness. He was 83 and is survived by his daughters Paula and Pixi and brother Prasun, a former India football captain and a current Member of Parliament.

Banerjee was suffering from sepsis and multi-organ failure due to pneumonia with a background of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and heart problems. The octogenarian, who was on life support at a city hospital since March 7, breathed his last at 2:08pm.

Banerjee, who was born on June 23, 1936 in Jalpaiguri, shifted to Jamshedpur with his family at an early age. He shone as a teenage footballer representing Bihar in the Santosh Trophy. Banerjee, who was a striker, went on to play for Aryan Club and Eastern Railway.

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Popularly known as PK, he represented India in 36 official matches and sported the captain’s armband in six of them. He scored 19 goals for the country.

Banerjee made his international debut on December 18, 1955, against Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 4 Quadrangular Cup in Dhaka. He scored five goals, the most by an Indian in his debut tournament, in the country’s title triumph.

He was part of three consecutive Asian Games teams –1958 Tokyo, 1962 Jakarta (where India won the gold medal) and 1966 Bangkok – and holds the record of scoring the most number of goals (six) for India.

He also represented the country at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and played a pivotal role in the 4-2 victory against Australia in the quarterfinals. India eventually finished fourth. Banerjee went on to captain the national side in the 1960 Rome Olympics and scored the equaliser against France in a 1-1 draw.

At the domestic level, he won the Santosh Trophy thrice each for Bengal (1955, 1958 and 1959) and Railways (1961, 1964 and 1966). At the club level, Banerjee scored 190 goals for Eastern Railways.

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He was the first footballer to receive the Arjuna Award in 1961. He got the prestigious Padma Shri award in 1990. He was bestowed with the FIFA Fairplay Award in 1990 and the FIFA Centennial Order of Merit in 2004.

As a coach, Banerjee – who began with the Bata Football Club in 1969 – was extremely successful. He was a joint-coach in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, where India won a bronze medal.

He then coached India in four other editions of the Asian Games, five editions of Merdeka Cup and two editions of the Nehru Cup in the 1970s and 1980s. He also coached the side in the Kings Cup (Bangkok) in 1981 and the SAF Games (Dhaka, where India was the champion) in 1985. He was a joint-coach in the Pesta Sukan Cup in Singapore in 1971 and in the 1972 Olympic Qualifiers in Rangoon (currently Yangon).

Banerjee served as the Technical Director for the SAFF Cup (Margao), where India won gold medal, and the Olympic Qualifiers in 1999 and the tour of England in 2000. As a coach, Banerjee won 30 trophies for East Bengal and 23 for Mohun Bagan.

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Banerjee will be remembered for inspiring the Indian clubs to do well against well-known foreign sides. He guided East Bengal to wins over North Korean clubs Pyongyang City Club and Dok Ro Gang to lift the IFA Shield and DCM Trophy respectively.

Under his guidance, Mohun Bagan drew 2-2 against star-studded Russian Club Ararat in the 1978 IFA Shield final. He was at the helm of Mohun Bagan when the side held Cosmos (USA), which fielded the legendary Pele, to a 2-2 draw at the Eden Gardens.

Banerjee also served as a Technical Director for the Tata Football Academy from 1991-97.

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