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The time Pele recognised the passion in Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee

The time Pele recognised the passion in Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee

Sounak Mullick

Published: 22 Jun 2018 5:53 AM GMT
Residing in a small apartment in the Khidderpore region of Kolkata, the Bengali couple leads a pretty ordinary life for four years to be part of something extraordinary every four years. Indian football has not offered the top quality, so the couple has fled around the world for the past 36 years to satisfy their eyes and replenish their hunger to witness world-class football.

Pannalal Chatterjee and Chaitali Chatterjee are currently in Russia, paying a visit to their 10th FIFA World Cup on the trot!

The prologue

The beginning of a memorable journey started when they were having a conversation at a friend’s place in London in 1982, who was incidentally a mayor in the United Kingdom. Out of the blue, the friend offered the couple to accompany himself to visit Spain and watch a match of the FIFA World Cup. Awestruck by the grand occasion, they craved for more in the future!

“We are paying visits to World Cups since 1982. I have a friend in London who became a mayor and invited us to come over. While we were having a chat at his place, he gave us an offer to watch a World Cup match in Spain."

"So we watched a game during the 1982 edition. Since then, it has been an addiction for me. Then I took preparation for the 1986 World Cup,” said Pannalal speaking to The Bridge, a couple of days before leaving for the showpiece event. Soon, they had plans sorted out for the 1986 edition which was held in Mexico. Widely regarded as ‘Maradona’s’ World Cup, the couple still believes that watching the Argentine’s march towards Cup glory was the main highlight of their travels so far. “We were sitting in the gallery in front of which the incident happened. Maradona was way shorter than the English defender, so we could distinguish both of them, although we could not clearly make out what actually took place,” said the 76-year old lady.
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The Insect named after World Cup caught Meghalaya in frenzy Chaitali's eyes gleamed as she recollected the memories of the infamous clash. Even at this age, she hasn't lost the enthusiasm. On request, she was swift to showcase the souvenirs collected from the various editions of the cup and even narrate every story behind each photo. "There are only two days left for us to board the flight to Russia, but we yet to be done with the packing," complained Mrs Chatterji.

A meet with Pele and a visit to Old Trafford

Something phenomenal happened during the 1994 edition at the United States of America. On their way to New Jersey, the great Brazilian, Pele, on seeing the couple said,
“You’ve come again”.
After posing for a snap with the Bengali couple, the legendary footballer went his way. The native attire of the Indians helped Pele recognise them. The picture still stands tall among others, one of the most precious things in the apartment. Accompanying the frame are many other such photos such as a rejuvenated Pannalal and Chaitali sitting in the gallery during the 1994 World Cup. The most recent being both of them standing along with many others, just outside the iconic Maracana Stadium during the 2014 World Cup. "Tomra ese gecho? reporter ra roj asche, saradin dhore thakche, kono kichu korar sujog nei"
(You all have arrived? journalists are arriving early in the day and staying for long hours each day, there is no scope to do other things), said a worried Pannalal just a few days prior to the kick-off in Moscow. Why wouldn't they?

To meet the couple and hear about their world cup tales is a pleasure for any sports journalist.

But they were sporting enough to entertain each and every one of them! It was just before the journey to the United States of America that they happened to visit the Old Trafford and even catch the club’s training sessions for a few days. The string of incidents started its course when the couple sent a letter to Manchester United showing interest to visit the “Theatre of Dreams” and watch their training and daily workings up close. Their wish was granted!
“We sent a letter to Manchester United to visit their club; they said that would pick us up from the Heathrow Airport. A man was sent to receive us and took us to Manchester and kept us as a guest in the residence of a Bengali doctor,”
said Pannalal, who climbed up to the second floor hastily after doing errands from the local marketplace. He added, “They took us to their club every day at 8 am in the morning and dropped us at 5 pm in the evening. We used to watch the training of footballers of different age groups like U-12, U-14. The technologies were superior (at that time), a machine used to scan the footballer's body to detect if he had any injuries.”
 A capture of the majestic Manchester United Stadium in Old Trafford is also a special mention in their photo collection!

Shortcomings of Asian nations

Indian football is lagging behind by a long mile and it has to mend its ways to even share the same pitch against the best in the business. Indians along with other Asian nations lack behind in the physical contest. Europeans and South Americans have better body structure to play the game, feels Pannalal.  He also admitted the fact that Infrastructural deficiency also sums up to the sorry state of Indian football. A frequent visitor to the Kolkata maidan these days,
the Mohun Bagan flag inside Pannalal's cupboard clearly shows his loyalty in the local region
. Yet he feels that the quality of football has deteriorated over the years and it's nowhere near to the P.K. Banerjee and Chuni Goswami era. Throwing light into the matter, the veteran said, “How is it possible? They (European) are superior in height, superior in weight, that’s the shortcoming of Asian nations like India and even Japan and South Korea. Even though the South Americans are of a shorter height, they have their body weight which helps them.”

The passion

With getting to afford just three tickets at the Russia World Cup, the couple is trying hard to get hold of a few more and extend their stay in Europe.

The pocket pinch is a too much for them, but they are making cent percent effort to overcome the problem. That’s an example of their passion for football, even at this age! There is still some empty space on the shelf at one corner of the room, maybe the next time we go there, it will be filled with more mementoes. Maybe the next time we chat with the couple, we'll be gifted with more exciting stories about their Russian experience. For now, they are engaged in the thing they love the most, watch football from the stands! From the ‘Hand of God’ incident to Germany’s 7-1 rout over hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte, they have witnessed every bit from the stands. This World Cup also promises to be a special one. Needless to say, they will bring back priceless memories when they set their foot on Indian soil once again. Out of many connections of Incredible India with the FIFA World Cup, this has been the most unique!
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