Aside from their bitter club rivalry, the city’s three major football clubs joined to mourn the loss of Pele, the greatest footballer the planet has ever seen, and remember his magical presence that stunned the city 45 years ago .
In the morning, a gloomy gloom descended on the city as the people of the football-mad city woke up to the death of Pele after his long battle with colon cancer at a hospital in Sao Paulo. It was a ‘black day’ for Mohun Bagan, the only club in the country against whom the three-time World Cup winner played a friendly match in the twilight of his glorious career.
The club flew their flag at half-mast, while their rival clubs East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting in Kolkata Maidan also followed suit. Mohun Bagan Secretary Debasish Dutta also informed that they would soon have the ‘Pele Gate’ ready at the club tent.
“We have already announced it and work will start soon, hopefully it will open to the public soon,” Dutta told PTI.
Dutta further recalled their exhibition match at Eden Gardens, which Mohun Bagan almost won 2-1 before a controversial penalty gave the star-studded Cosmos a 2-2 draw.
“September 24, 1977 is an important day in the club’s history. We represented the country playing against the New York Cosmos. Mohun Bagan was known as India’s ‘only’ football club.
— Mohun Bagan (@Mohun_Bagan) December 30, 2022
“It was a huge turning point in the club’s history. People will come and go and this day will be forever etched in history,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, former city footballers and administrators of the Big Three clubs, West Bengal Sports Minister Aroop Biswas, gathered at the iconic Saltlake Stadium to pay their tribute to the ‘King of Football’. A photo was kept in the lobby of the stadium where people gathered to pay tribute, offered flowers and hurled the Brazilian maestro. Arch rivals of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan chiefs walked together and remembered his legacy.
“Pele is an emperor of world sports. All of us and all the athletes and sports enthusiasts 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 honor Pele,” East Bengal President Dr Pranab Dasgupta told reporters.
West Bengal Sports Minister Biswas said it was a day of mourning for the football-loving people of the region.
“We have lost the king of football. As long as the moon and the sun are there, many players will come, but players like Pele will not come.
— Mohun Bagan (@Mohun_Bagan) December 29, 2022
“We’ve seen Maradona, we’ve seen Messi, but Pele is the best footballer the world has ever seen,” he said.
Former India striker and Mohammedan Sporting football secretary Dipendu Biswas also echoed the sentiments.
“He is the biggest star in the sport, 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 Indian midfielder Prasanta Banerjee, who was a 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 when Pele played against Mohun Bagan in Calcutta, how he played and shot the free kick,” said Banerjee, then playing for East Bengal.
The All India Football Federation, meanwhile, has declared a seven-day mourning to commemorate Pele’s life and achievements. Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said: “We are deeply saddened by the demise of footballing great Pele, and to commemorate his achievements, we will observe a seven-day mourning.
During this period, the AIFF flag will be flown at half-mast.” “India is blessed that Pele has visited us so many times, the last time was in 2018. We all remain grateful to him for these visits,” said Dr Prabhakaran.
“He always wanted Indian football to develop and grow and have a bright future. He was someone who had inspired like no other in the sport,” he said.