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PK Banerjee: The Indelible Five Decade Football Journey

A look back at PK Banerjee, one of the greatest football legends' life, & fifty-year journey of thundering shots, amazing headers, and stunning spot jumps. He became the first footballer to receive arjuna award.

Last updated: 18.05.2020
PK Banerjee Biography | Sports Social Blog

Pradip Kumar Banerjee (PK Banerjee) is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time in Indian football history. Two Olympics, three Asian Games, several goals, amazing talent, Gold medal as a player, bronze as a coach, first footballer recipient of Arjuna Award, named as the Indian Footballer of the 20th century, the only Asian footballer to have been awarded “ The centennial order of merit” and a lot more in his long list of achievements best describe him.

Financial distress, Foils, and Football:

He was born in 1936, in a small town in North Bengal. Born in a middle-class family, the eldest of all, he had the responsibility to carry the burden of his family. His father died after a few years and he was able to hardly meet both ends.

However, the financial constraints and the family situation did not set back his football dreams. His family shifted to Jamshedpur. In 1951, at the age of 15, PK played in Santhosh Trophy for Bihar. Later, he moved to Kolkata and started his club career at Aryan FC. In 1953, he shifted to the Eastern Railway primarily because he was offered a job as a ticket collector with a salary of ₹137. While Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, and several famous clubs were there, he stuck with the unfancied Eastern Railways for his entire career. Under his leadership, in 1958, eastern Railways went on to win the Calcutta Football League. It is considered a remarkable feat as that is the only CFL title that wasn’t won by Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, or Mohammedan Sporting since Independence. His brilliant tactics and exploits on the field grabbed the attention of the national selectors.

India, Olympics, and Captaincy:

One could arguably say that Indian football enjoyed the realm of success between 1945 – later part of the 1960s. The golden era of the Indian Football was known for several talented and skilled players, State level football clubs, Olympics and Asian games.

In 1955, Banerjee made his debut as a right-winger in a Quadrangular Tournament against Sri Lanka held in Dhaka. Also, he played an important role in India’s win in the final against Pakistan. He scored 5 of his 19 goals in this debut tournament

In Image: India's Football Olympics squad, 1956

The 20-year-old Banerjee was named in the Indian team for the Melbourne Olympics 1956.  In the match against Australia, PK was instrumental in Neville D Souza’s hat-trick goal, assisting him on two occasions. After losing to Yugoslavia in the semi-final and to Bulgaria in the third-place match, India was placed fourth and recorded its best-ever position until this date.

Four years from then, PK Banerjee led the Indian Football Team at the Rome Olympics 1960. His goal in the second match against France at the 71st minute helped India draw the match. However, with two losses and one draw India was placed at the bottom of the group stage and failed to qualify for the next round.

Asian Games, Amazing Trio, and Adieu:

PK was part of three Asian Games. In 1958, 1962 and 1966. The most memorable would be the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. India won its second gold medal in football, first being in 1951. He scored four goals and provided five assists. PK and Chuni Goswami were star performers of the tournament. He scored one goal each in the other two Asian Games editions. His goal tally at the Asian Games went up to 6, the most by an Indian.

Banerjee, Chuni, and Tulsidas Balaram were known as the ‘Terrific Trios’ or the holy trinity. Indian football was said to be at the best phase with coach Syed Abdul Rahim’s famous style 4-2-4 system. He employed PK on the right and Chuni and Tulsidas alongside him in the attack. Together they played 16 internationals and won 12 out of it. The cherry on the cake was the Asian Games 1962 Gold. Pleurisy cut down Balaram’s career. Banerjee broke his leg at a training camp for the 1963 Olympics. With recurring injuries, PK had to drop out of the team. In 1967, both Banerjee and Chuni bid adieu to football. Banerjee made 84 international appearances and scored 65 goals.


Coach, Club victories and game Changing talks:

Banerjee, in 1969 attended the 14-weeks Coaches’ Training Course held by FIFA for aspiring coaches in Asia. Four Indians attended it. One among them was PK Banerjee, sowing the seed for a second round in the football arena. Being a FIFA certificated coach, he was in charge of the Indian Football Team from 1972-1986. “Pradipda had this innate ability to inspire. He could talk us into believing we could do anything and personally he always managed to get the best out of me. He was a player’s coach,” Bhowmick himself an accomplished manager and coach, said.

As a coach, Banerjee was famously called Pradipda or PK da (da meaning dada). He had been a coach for all generations. He had 54 trophies to his name as a coach of clubs and the country, a feat unmatched yet. He was adored, respected and admired by all the players he coached. They had worshipped him as a father figure and also considered him as a teacher and friend.

His coaching with East Bengal stands out of all. In 1972, that season the club was unbeaten and conceded only four goals. They won Calcutta Football League (CFL), the IFA shield (Indian Football Association), the Bordoloi Trophy, the Durand Cup and shared the Rovers Cup. Later, when he became the coach of Mohun Bagan, he won 23 trophies.

He was made a joint India Coach in 1970. India won the bronze at the Asian Games 1970. Banerjee guided India to a joint triumph - Pesta Sukan Cup in 1971. He was also greatly known for his motivational and inspirational talk, famously called the “Vocal Tonic”. On several occasions, his talk had changed the course of the game.

"Pradeep Da would keep an East Bengal Jersey on the floor and show it to us and say 'Look at that jersey. It's your mother and some people are making fun of your mother and you guys are doing nothing', A former East Bengal Legend recalled.

"The next thing we knew was we were so charged that we scored twice in the second half. It might not work now but it worked for us in the 1970s when emotions played a big part," he had said in 2010.

Feats achieved, Football and Final exit:


Apart from the goals and victories, he had achieved several feats. He had won the gold medal for India as a player and a bronze as a coach. He had served the Indian football team for more than 5 decades. His fame was spread not just in India, he was admired in the whole world. He was named the Indian Footballer of the 20th Century by International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). In 1961, when the Arjuna Award was instituted, he was one among the first recipients of it. In 1990, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri. The major achievement was when in 2004, he received the FIFA Order of Merit, the highest honour awarded by FIFA.

Football was in his blood. He always talked about it. On his 70th birthday, he told to one of his friends, “Nothing is more enjoyable than dashing through the right, cutting into the area and leaving the goalkeeper stranded with an accurate and powerful volley. For one more goal like that, I am still ready to give up everything in life.”

On 20th March 2020, PK Banerjee died due to age-related issues at the age of 83. From his debut for Bihar in the Santosh Trophy at age 16 in 1952 to a stint as Mohammedan Sporting coach 51 years later, his five-decade football journey will breathe his name until the day football survives.

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