Interview of former Mohun Bagan and India captain, Pradip Chowdhury18-Jun, 2012
Former Mohun Bagan and Indian Captain, present Technical Committee Member of McDowell Mohun Bagan, Pradip Chowdhury, played in Mohun Bagan from 1976 to 1981. He was perhaps the most humble footballer during his times. Pradip Chowdhury's combination with Subrata Bhattacharya in the stopper-back position was rock solid and brought stability in defence, and Mohun Bagan won a lot of trophies during the 6 years he played for the club. He was also the Technical Committee Member of AIFF and Manager of the Indian National Football team.
Till now, at his age, he is a regular at South Club and to keep himself fit plays tennis twice a week. We had a chat with him in South Club.
Since you are the Technical Committee member of the club, I would like to start the interview by asking what do you think was the reason that Mohun Bagan football team went trophyless last season?
Pradip Chowdhury: Injury problem to several key members of the team.
Have you given the team list for the coming season?
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes.
Do you think, if Tolgay plays in Mohun Bagan, his combination with Odafa will ensure better result for Mohun Bagan?
Pradip Chowdhury: Odafa is a dangerous striker and he has already proved his ability by scoring great goals last year. If Tolgay plays in Mohun Bagan, then he will definitely be an asset to the club. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Mohun Bagan will be recruiting a few new players in stopper position like Nirmal Chettri. How do you rate him as a player?
Pradip Chowdhury: Nirmal is a very good player. He has already proved his ability and is an experienced campaigner.
Who do you think is the best Indian stopper at this moment?
Pradip Chowdhury: Gourmangi Singh.
Tell us something about your childhood days Pradip da.
Pradip Chowdhury: My father was a Deputy Magistrate and had a transferrable job, so we have stayed in many cities. I had a knack of playing football from my childhood. While in Kharagpur, S. Anthony, a player of BNR who played for the Indian National team (contemporary of Appalaraju) inspired me a lot and used to give us a lot of tips.
When did you start playing professional football?
Pradip Chowdhury: My father was transferred to Mumbai in 1970. That year only, I joined New India Assurance, which used to play in the 1st Division in Mumbai.
The next year I joined Mafatlal. Shyam Thapa was there in Mafatlal at that time. Within 3 months, I got a call from the Indian National Team at the age of 19 years. It was a goodwill tour in Russia. We played 5 exhibition matches there. I played in the stopper position with Arun Ghosh. Incidentally, it was my 1st tour and Arun Ghosh's last tour.
Mafatlal that year won the Bombay League. I played 1 more year in Mafatlal before joining Tata Sports Club in 1973 where I played for 3 seasons. After that I joined Mohun Bagan in 1976.
Share with us your experience of playing in Mumbai.
Pradip Chowdhury: As I already told you, Mafatlal won the Mumbai League in 1971. I joined Tata Sports Club in 1973. Tata had a very good team at that time. Jahar Das, myself and Sabbir Ali joined Tata in 1972, 1973 and 1974 respectively. I was the captain of Tata Sports Club in 1975.
Tata Sports Club won Mumbai League twice in those 3 years. They also reached the final of Rovers Cup in 1973 as well as in 1974, but lost in the finals to East Bengal and Dempo Sports Club respectively.
Tata Sports Club defeated Mohun Bagan in 2 successive Rovers Cups, in 1974 and 1975.
One of my memorable matches, not wearing the green and maroon jersey, was when we defeated Mohun Bagan in 1974.
Are you talking of Rovers Cup?
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, actually there was an incident which I would like to share.
In 1974, Mohun Bagan won the Durand Cup by defeating JCT. Mohun Bagan had also beaten East Bengal in the semi-final. After Mohun Bagan won this tournament, myself and Jahar Das who are always Mohun Bagan supporters, had a small party in our room for 2 reasons, for Mohun Bagan winning the Durand Cup and also for the reason that Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal after a long period of time.
One of the players of our team (I don't want to name him) leaked this information to our coach. Incidentally, our next match was against Mohun Bagan in the Rovers Cup quarter final.
Mohun Bagan, after winning the Durand Cup, would be playing their 1st match of the Rovers Cup against us. Our Coach did not want to put us in the starting lineup as he thought being Mohun Bagan supporters, we will not give our best for the team.
After a lot of meeting with management and coach, ultimately both of us played the match and Tata Sports Club defeated Mohun Bagan 3-1. It is one of the most memorable matches of my life.
When did you get the offer to join Mohun Bagan?
Pradip Chowdhury: After seeing my performance in Rovers Cup in 2 consecutive seasons, Manna da (Sailen Manna) gave me an offer to play for Mohun Bagan. Those days, the inter-state transfer rule would prohibit players from taking the field until 6 months from the date of their signing. I came to Kolkata in October 1975 but played my 1st match in 1976.
Which was your 1st match for Mohun Bagan?
Pradip Chowdhury: It was an exhibition match against Crooktown, the match was held in Eden Gardens. I played with Subrata Bhattacharya in stopper position. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Did you always play in stopper position from your starting days?
Pradip Chowdhury: No, I initially used to play in midfield, but later on I shifted to stopper position.
Tell us something about the 17 second goal match?
Pradip Chowdhury: Oh yes, it was the fastest goal in the history of Kolkata derby, may be in Indian soccer as well. Within 17 seconds, from Habib's through pass, Ulganathan sent a cross which was headed in by Akbar. However, after the goal and an Ulganathan shot in the 5th minute which hit the post, the remaining part of the match was virtually East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan defence or rather Pradip Chowdhury. That was my 1st year in Mohun Bagan but I played my heart out and stopped East Bengal from scoring that day.
Mohun Bagan recorded an unbeaten league win in 1976.
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, Mohun Bagan won the league unbeaten in 1976. We also conceded just 1 goal in the League.
Also I had a very good personal record that year. I was unbeaten in all the matches that I played, whether it is for Mohun Bagan, Bengal or India.
Will you say Subrata Bhattacharya is your favourite partner in defence?
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, definitely. Also, I would like to take the name of Gunab Pandya. I played with him in the Indian team.
You played with Subrata till 1981 in Mohun Bagan.
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, we had a very good partnership. We had many memorable matches for Mohun Bagan. In fact, I can proudly say that after I joined Mohun Bagan in 1976, good times returned to the club after a relatively bad phase of 1970-1975. During the 6 years in which I played for Mohun Bagan, we won a lot of trophies. Every single year from 1976 to 1981 we won more than 1 tournament.
Coming back to Subrata, he was an extremely good header which not only had power but also was well directed. My header was relatively weak, but my asset was ground tackling including sliding tackles. I was also very good in ground ball covering. Subrata's ball distribution and anticipation were very good.
You have a great record in IFA Shield?
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, in 1980, the tournament was not held. Out of the remaining 5 years, we won the trophy each and every time. Mohun Bagan had lost to East Bengal in the IFA Shield final in 1974 and 1975. We took sweet revenge in 1977 and 1979, when we won the IFA Shield defeating East Bengal 1-0 in the finals. In 1977, it was Shyam Thapa and in 1979 it was Gautam Sarkar who scored the winning goals for Mohun Bagan.
In 1976 and 1981, we were joint winners with East Bengal. However, I think the best win was the 1978 IFA Shield final, we became joint winners with Ararat Erevan. At that time, Ararat was the No. 10 club team of Europe.
Also you know, I played full time in all the IFA Shield final matches in these 5 years. From 1976 to 1979 IFA Shield final, I played with Subrata Bhattacharya in stopper position, while in the 1981 final match, Samar Bhattacharya was my partner in central defence.
Apart from IFA Shield, how many trophies did Mohun Bagan win from 1976 to 1981?
Pradip Chowdhury: Mohun Bagan won the Rovers Cup thrice, in 1976, 1977, and in 1981, the 1st two times we won against 2 of my ex clubs, Mafatlal and Tata Sports Club.
We defeated JCT, Punjab Police and Mohammedan Sporting to win the Durand Cup in 1977, 1979 and 1980 respectively.
Then, we won the Calcutta Football League thrice, in 1976, 1978 and 1979.
Mohun Bagan also won the Federation Cup 3 times, in 1978, 1980 and 1981.
Then we won Bordoloi Trophy in 1976 and 1977, Darjeeling Gold Cup in 1976 and Sait Nagjee Trophy in 1978 and 1981.
What was the experience of playing against Pele in 1977?
Pradip Chowdhury: It was another memorable match of my career. The match against Cosmos ended in a 2-2 draw. I was instructed to mark Pele. After the match, I still remember, Pele appreciated my performance in the defence.
Talking about man marking, you also successfully man-marked Inder Singh?
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, actually it was my idea. I took up the challenge myself that I have to stop Inder Singh from scoring goals. I remember in the Durand Cup, he was unsuccessful against us. Then in the 1977 Santosh Trophy final, Bengal defeated Punjab 3-1. In that match also, I did not allow Inder Singh any space in and around the Bengal penalty box.
Mohun Bagan won the Triple Crown in 1977.
Pradip Chowdhury: Actually, there were many years in which Mohun Bagan won 3 or more trophies, but winning triple crown meant winning Durand Cup, Rovers Cup and IFA Shield in a single season which happened in 1977. We won the Rovers and Durand defeating Tata Sports Club and JCT. In the IFA Shield final, Shyam Thapa's goal helped us to beat East Bengal 1-0.
In 1978, Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal once again in Calcutta League.
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes we won by 1-0, Shyam Thapa scored a gem of a goal by that famous bicycle kick. That year, Mohun Bagan not only won the league, 4 points ahead of East Bengal, but we also scored 89 goals in 22 matches that year, out of which Akbar scored 24 goals and Shyam Thapa 22.
In 1979, Mohun Bagan did not lose any match.
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, in 1979, Mohun Bagan was unbeaten throughout the season. We participated in 4 tournaments and won all those 4, Calcutta Football League, IFA Shield, Durand Cup and Darjeeling Gorkha Gold Cup.
In the IFA Shield, we beat East Bengal 1-0, Gautam Sarkar scored the goal for us.
In fact, both in 1978 and 1979 CFL, we just lost 1 point.
During these years, were you also playing for India?
Pradip Chowdhury: In 1973 and 1974, I played in the Mardeka Tournament. After playing in 1974 Asian Games, I played in a tournament held in Indonesia.
I was the Captain of the Indian team in Kings Cup that was held in Seol. Then we went to a goodwill tour to Zambia and Kenya, where also I was the Captain. After this tour in 1977, I gracefully retired from the Indian Team.
Those days, the Indian team captain used to get the Arjuna Award the next year, but in 1978 Janata Party who was in power, discontinued this practice, hence I missed the Arjuna Award.
You also had a good match against East Bengal in 1980?
Pradip Chowdhury: Unfortunately, my performance went unnoticed as there was a huge crowd trouble in the match and 16 people died.
Coach Arun Ghosh initially decided not to put me in the starting lineup and put my name in the extras. Subrata Bhattacharya got very upset and told the coach "if you are not putting Pradip in the first team because you think he is not fit, then why are you putting him in the reserve bench." Anyways, Arun Ghosh ultimately decided to put me in the first team. During the match, I was man marking Majid Baskar and he was a total failure in that match.
You know, during the match, seeing my performance, Subrata was shouting at the coach "See how Pradip is playing and you were thinking of putting him in reserve bench." After the match, Arun Ghosh said to me "You have proved me wrong."
In 1981, Samar Bhattacharya replaced you in a few matches?
Pradip Chowdhury: I was the Captain of Mohun Bagan that year. I saw good potential in Samar Bhattacharya. So I went to Dhiren Dey and told him to give a chance to Samar Bhattacharya, as Mohun Bagan should also think of grooming new players for the future. Dhiren Dey really liked my proposal. The first tournament that year was Nagji Trophy, I played in the defence, we became the Champions. The next tournament was Federation Cup, Samar Bhattacharya replaced me and we became the Champions. Samar Bhattacharya was adjudged Best Player of the Federation Cup. Even he was declared the Best Player in 1981. In the IFA Shield final, I played with Samar in the stopper position. We won the title jointly with East Bengal as the match ended in a 2-2 draw.
Your favourite coach during your playing days?
Pradip Chowdhury: P. K. Banerjee.
Did you ever get an offer from East Bengal?
Pradip Chowdhury: I got offers from East Bengal on many occasions, but every time I told their officials "Even if I sign for East Bengal, my heart will remain in Mohun Bagan, so it is better that you don't give me any offer."
You retired at an early age both from the Indian National team as well as Mohun Bagan, any particular reason?
Pradip Chowdhury: Australian cricketers always say that it is good to hear "Why instead of Why not?". I always believe that it is best to retire when you are in peak form.
After Chuni Goswami, I was the 1st player who announced retirement before hand. Though after that, to keep my commitment, I played in 2 more tournaments for Mohun Bagan.
Say something about Md. Habib.
Pradip Chowdhury: He was a born leader, both on and off the field. When I joined Mohun Bagan in 1976, I had a great match when we defeated East Bengal 1-0, Akbar scored the winning goal in the 17th second. Just after the match, I went to Habib bhai and told him "Habib bhai, I would like to go out with 2 of my friends to have beer." Hearing this, Habib at once looked at me and told me "Have we already won the League? Just beating East Bengal is enough for you?" I was so ashamed I could not say anything. Though 30 minutes later, he arranged beer for me and my friends, I could hardly drink, as I felt what Habib bhai said was absolutely correct.
If Habib bhai did not get his full payment, he would sit in the dressing room wearing only 1 boot, whereas that same person would give his best during the match. In short, he was a ruthless professional.
If you are to choose the best XI out of the players with whom you have played in Mohun Bagan, what will be the team like?
Pradip Chowdhury: Pratap Ghosh would be the goalkeeper. Myself and Subrata Bhattacharya would be in the stopper position. The left and right back would be Dilip Palit and Shyamal Banerjee/Compton Dutta. The 2 midfielders would be Goutam Sarkar and Prasun Banerjee. In the forward line, it would be Bidesh Bose and Manas Bhattacharya as the two wingers with Md. Habib and Shyam Thapa as the 2 strikers.
Since I had to choose 11 players only, I could not pick up players like Akbar, Ulganathan, Sudhir Karmakar, etc.
After you retired from the game, did you want to become a coach?
Pradip Chowdhury: (laughing) Rather, I wanted to become a referee, but then all my friends told me that if I become a referee, I would not be able to officiate in the final matches of any major tournament. When I asked them why, they said that mostly the final matches will be played between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, and as an ex player of Mohun Bagan, I would not get a chance to officiate those matches.
You had been associated with AIFF.
Pradip Chowdhury: Yes, I was the Technical Committee Member of AIFF for 6 years. Also, for the same period of time, I was the Manager of the Indian National Football team, during which time India won 2 Nehru Cups and qualified for the AFC Championship after 24 years.
I was also the overall in-charge of 2 academies of SAIL, in Burnpur and in Bokaro.
Lastly, you have scored 1 goal in your football career, fans who have seen that goal say that it was a brilliant goal scored by you from the midfield?
Pradip Chowdhury: (laughing) I don't deserve any credit for the goal. It was a match against Mohammedan Sporting and was being played in the Mohun Bagan club ground. I went for a tackle against a Mohammedan player. He just removed his leg and I made my tackle so hard that the ball flew from the midfield and went straight towards Mohammedan Sporting goal. Mohammedan Sporting goalkeeper, Nasir Ahmed, made an error in judging the flight of the ball and the ball went inside the goal.
Thanks Pradip da for talking to us and hope from this season Mohun Bagan start winning trophies the way they won from 1976 to 1981.
Pradip Chowdhury: Hope so.
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