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‘Mecca’ of Indian football in state of mourning; Mohun Bagan to unveil ‘Pele Gate’

Kolkata: Putting their bitter club rivalries aside, the city’s Big Three football clubs joined in to mourn the loss of Pele, the greatest footballer the planet has ever seen, and remember his magical presence that wowed the city, 45 years back.

A pall of gloom descended on the city in the morning as people of the football-crazy city woke up to the death of Pele following his prolonged battle with colon cancer at a Sao Paulo hospital.

It was a ‘Black Day’ for Mohun Bagan, the country’s only club against whom the three-time World Cup winner played in an exhibition match in the twilight of his glittering career.

The club put their flag at half mast, as their rival clubs East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting in the Kolkata Maidan also followed suit.

Mohun Bagan secretary Debasish Dutta also announced that they would soon have the ‘Pele Gate’ ready at the club tent. “We have already declared it and the work will begin soon, hopefully, it will be opened to the public soon,” Dutta told PTI.

Dutta further remembered their exhibition match at Eden Gardens which Mohun Bagan nearly won 2-1 before a controversial penalty earned the star-studded Cosmos a 2-2 draw.

“September 24, 1977, is a red-letter day in the club’s history. We represented the country by playing against the New York Cosmos. People knew Mohun Bagan as the ‘only’ football club in India.

“It was a huge turning point in the club’s history. People will come and go and this day will be etched in history forever,” he said.

Later in the afternoon, the city’s former footballers and administrators of the Big Three clubs, West Bengal Sports minister Aroop Biswas gathered at the iconic Saltlake Stadium to pay their homage to the ‘King of Football’.

A photo was kept in the stadium lobby where people gathered to pay their tributes, offering flowers and garlanding the Brazilian maestro.

Arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan chiefs were walking together and remembering his legacy.

“Pele is an emperor of world sports. All of us and all the sportsmen and sports lovers 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 be able to honour 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.

“We’ve seen Maradona, we’ve seen Messi, but Pele is the greatest football player the world has ever seen,” he said.

Former India forward and Mohammedan Sporting football secretary Dipendu Biswas also echoed the sentiments.

“He is the biggest star in sports, 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 India midfielder Prasanta Banerjee, who was 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 Pele playing against Mohun Bagan in Calcutta, how he played and shot the free kick,” said Banerjee who played for East Bengal then.

The All India Football Federation meanwhile has declared a seven-day mourning to remember the life and achievements of Pele.

Secretary general Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said, “We are deeply saddened by the demise of footballing great Pele, and to remember his achievements, we will observe a seven-day mourning. In this period, the AIFF flag will fly at half-mast.”

“India is blessed that Pele has visited us on so many occasions, the last time being 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 nobody else in the sport,” he said.

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