Majid Beshkar: Badsha touches base

A rapturous crowd of around 2,000 East Bengal fans assembled at the Kolkata airport to receive the iconic Iranian forward recently.

“I kept thinking in the aircraft whether there will be anyone other than some club officials to receive me. But when I landed, I was clearly astonished to find a huge crowd waiting to receive me,” said Majid Beshkar, on arriving in Kolkata.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

For a city that prides itself on its rich footballing history, it is only fair that players often attain demigod status on the legends spun around their magical talents. Majid Beshkar is one such name that became famous among football lovers.

It was not an unfamiliar sight when a rapturous crowd of around 2,000 East Bengal fans assembled at the Kolkata airport to receive the iconic Iranian forward recently. For a man returning to the city after 32 years, it was a pleasant surprise. “I kept thinking in the aircraft whether there will be anyone other than some club officials to receive me. But when I landed, I was clearly astonished to find a huge crowd waiting to receive me. We had to take help of police to leave the place,” Majid said, unable to hide his amazement about the craze surrounding his arrival.

Interestingly, many of those celebrating the arrival of the 63-year-old former star were the new generation of supporters, probably born much after Majid had returned to his native country. But “Majid Badsha,” the sobriquet he received from the fans for his authoritative presence on the field, still continued to be relevant among supporters across all generations. All that was happening on his arrival seemed to convince the East Bengal officials of their choice of making Majid the hero of the club’s centenary celebrations. “Thank you for gifting magical moments” — was the slogan they coined for the stylish play-maker, who was crowned the best foreigner of all time to turn out for East Bengal. He remained prime attraction as the club honoured all its living captains in a colourful function at the giant Netaji Indoor Stadium.

What made Majid more comfortable on his return was the fact that the fans had put behind the controversies that dogged his departure from the city more than three decades ago. Majid had left for his country almost broke and battling allegations about alcohol and substance abuse, according to newspaper reports of that time.“I knew my game was of the standard that satisfied East Bengal fans. It is their love that has brought me back to the city. Politics should not enter football as it spoils everything,” said Majid, preferring to live in the glory of his playing days with East Bengal and not the later developments that mired his career in controversies forcing him to return to Iran.

The incidents that prompted his departure in 1986-87 had pained the player a lot. “I was in two minds about returning to India and Kolkata. I wanted everything to be settled as a condition for my arrival. When Jamshed (Nassiri) and Mona (Monoranjan Bhattacharya) and my brother-in-law living in Tehran assured me, I decided to come here,” Majid is still trying to shake off the memories of the dreary days when he got embroiled in off-the-field controversies. All that happened when he had spent a couple of seasons with Mohammedan Sporting after leaving East Bengal. “I was in a lot of trouble when I returned to Iran, but the love that I have received from the East Bengal fans got me going all these years. I think I have got everything (love and affection from fans) even though I don’t have anything (in material terms),” Majid said, turning philosophical facing questions on how he managed in the long period since his departure.

“Everything has changed about the city and the club, from the building to the galleries but the colours ‘Red and Gold’ remain the same. The passion for these two colours will change many more things in the coming days,” said Majid, choosing his words carefully to impress upon the journalists the essence of his feelings for East Bengal.

On the Eden Gardens tragedy, Majid remembered with sadness the darkest day in Indian football when 16 people died in a stampede during a bitter Kolkata Derby (of Calcutta Football League) on August 16, 1980. “The match was not up to the standard as none of the two sides was playing well. But there was a lot of interest about it and the stadium was packed. Suddenly I saw some portions (of the stands) were empty but could not make out the reason as I was playing,” he said. “Later when I had returned to my residence, which was near to the hospital (SSKM Hospital) where the injured were taken, I came to know about the tragedy from a supporter. He said, ‘Look so many people died because of the kind of match you played.’ I was really saddened by the incident,” Majid reminisced.

When asked about his best moments with East Bengal, he picked the goal he had scored in the 1980 Rovers Cup final beating the best goalkeeper in the country, Bhaskar Ganguly. It was the year Mohammedan Sporting had poached a big part of the East Bengal squad (including Bhaskar), forcing the latter to search for new players. That saw the arrival of Majid, Jamshed Nassiri and Mehmood Khabaji, who were picked up from the rosters of Aligarh Muslim University.

Majid Beshkar during his days with East Bengal. The incidents that prompted his departure in 1986-87 had pained the Iranian a lot.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

It was all about Majid and Jamshed as Khabaji did not play many matches. They won five titles in the two seasons with East Bengal: the Federation Cup in 1979 and 1980 (joint winner with Mohun Bagan), the Rovers Cup in 1980 (joint winner with Mohammedan Sporting), the IFA Shield in 1981 (joint winner with Bagan) and the Darjeeling Gold Cup in 1981, beating Bagan 3-2.

“East Bengal became the joint winner in the Rovers Cup final after I had beaten Bhaskar Ganguly in the Mohammedan Sporting goal to make it 1-1,” Majid said with a wink. When it came to the best match, Majid said it is the 1981 Darjeeling Gold Cup final against arch-rival Mohun Bagan. “The supporters had lost all hope as East Bengal was trailing 0-2 till the 76th minute. We scored three goals after that and turned the result on its head. That was the best match I had played for East Bengal,” Majid said. The Iranian play-maker said the best defender he had played against was the legendary Mohun Bagan stopper-back Subrata Bhattacharya, whom he met and exchanged pleasantries at the Mohammedan Sporting club where the latter is the head-coach now.

Majid saluted the unsparing adulation he received from the countless East Bengal fans, saying the depression that engulfed his heart for so many years was assuaged by the spontaneity of the “wonderful reception” on his return to the city.