Former India football team captain Samar ‘Badru’ Banerjee, who led the country to a historic fourth-place finish in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, died in Kolkata in the early hours of Saturday after a prolonged illness. He was 92. Banerjee is survived by his daughter-in-law. Fondly known as ‘Badru Da’, he was suffering from Alzheimer, Azotemia and high-blood pressure related ailments, and was admitted at the MR Bangur Hospital after testing positive for COVID-19 on July 27.
“As his health deteriorated he was shifted to the state-run SSKM Hospital under the supervision of state sports minister Arup Biswas. He breathed his last around 2.10am,” Mohun Bagan secretary Debasish Dutta told PTI.
“He was our beloved ‘Badru Da’ and we had bestowed him with the Mohun Bagan Ratna in 2009. It’s another big loss for the Maidan,” he added in his condolence message.
His body was brought to the club as the members and fans paid their last respects.
The Indian football teams have participated in three Olympics so far and till date, the performance by the Banerjee-led 1956 side remains the best, when they finished fourth after losing to Bulgaria 0-3 in the bronze medal playoff, in what was known as the ‘golden era’ of football in the country.
Having got a walkover in the first round, the Syed Abdul Rahim-coached side that also had the likes of PK Banerjee, Neville D’Souza and J ‘Kittu’ Krishnaswamy, defeated Australia 4-2. D’Souza struck a hat-trick in their glorious win.
But the team failed to make the final, going down 1-4 to Yugoslavia in the last-four stage.
Besides guiding Mohun Bagan to several trophies including their first ever Durand Cup (1953), Rovers Cup (1955), Banerjee has also won the Santosh Trophy twice as a player (1953, 1955) and once as coach (1962). He also served India as selector.
With his demise, Maidan has lost another footballing great after the likes of PK, Chuni Goswami, Subhas Bhowmick and Surajit Sengupta in less than three years.
Born on January 30, 1930, Banerjee’s footballing journey started with some local clubs in Bally as a school-going kid.
His father, Sasanka Sekhar Banerjee, was a strict disciplinarian and wanted him to become a doctor, enrolling him in RG Kar Medical College.
“My father was very strict. He would scold me a lot for ignoring my studies,” Banerjee would recount in an interview to the Mariners’ website after he was conferred the ‘Mohun Bagan Ratna’.
“But, in spite of that, I would go there and listen to the elders talking about Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, and various other clubs of the Maidan. I was shoved away many times, but my attention would always be there,” he added.
At a time when there was little incentive for a sportsperson, an 18-year-old Banerjee chose to become a footballer and went on to represent Bally Protiva, a third division club in the Calcutta Football League.
Having impressed with his skills, there was no looking back as he was roped in by Bengal Nagpur Railway, better known as BNR, the nurturing ground for the state football then, before going on to make a mark at Mohun Bagan during an excellent eight-year stint. There, he had formed a deadly combination up front with Kesto Pal.
Banerjee won the IFA Shield in his debut season with the green-and-maroon brigade in a controversial final against Rajasthan Club.
He then guided the club to their first ever Durand Cup next season, with his key strikes in the semi-final and final.
Banerjee again hogged the Maidan limelight in 1954 when they secured another first, a double with the CFL and IFA Shield titles, as he went on to cement his place in the Indian side under coach Rahim.
In between he also toured with the club to East Africa, with the likes of PK.
In 1958, he was made Mohun Bagan captain which ironically coincided with the club’s downward spiral, having finished runners up in the CFL, Shield and the Rovers Cup.
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