Anyone who closely follows football in Kolkata is aware of elderly Bengali couple Pannalal and Chaitali Chatterjee. Arguably the biggest football fans in the country who have witnessed 10 live editions of the FIFA World Cup since 1982. Today, is a sad day for football fraternity as 86-year-old Pannalal, who was popular as 'Panu da' passed away this morning at 7.30 AM at the Kothari Hospital in Alipore, Kolkata, leaving his 78-year-old wife.
Residing in a small apartment in the Khidderpore region of Kolkata, Panu da and his wife led an ordinary life. Despite the pocket pinch, they ensured they would never miss a world cup. The decision came with hundreds of sacrifices, from curtailing on the food they liked, to always living on a shoe-string budget, and making sure that their 'World Cup Fund' was never compromised with.
The couple fled around the world for the past 36 years to satisfy their eyes and replenish their hunger to witness world-class football. 2018 was the last FIFA World Cup they were a part of in Russia, which was their 10th World Cup on the trot.
The Bridge contacted his wife, who mentioned: "Panna was sick for some time now. Last week he caught a pretty serious fever and found himself unable to move. On Thursday, he was admitted to the hospital. Clearly, age caught up with his health. The doctors tried their best but weren't able to save him. My husband lived a good life and the memories we have will stay forever"
Their 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!
They watched a game during the 1982 edition. Since then, it has been an addiction. Soon, they had plans sorted out for the 1986 edition which was held in Mexico. Widely regarded as ‘Maradona’s’ World Cup, the couple believed that watching the Argentine’s march towards Cup glory was the main highlight of their travels where they witnessed the famous 'HAND OF GOD' goal.
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 quintessential Brazil-supporting Bengali couple also witnessed the 1-7 drubbing of their favourite team by eventual champions Germany in the 2014 semifinals at Belo Horizonte.
Pannalal who lived a long life would be remembered by India's footballing fraternity and his legacy will hopefully inspire the generation of football lovers.