When an Indian footballer's 'historic goal' made Asia go berserk
37 years before Rahul Bheke and Mumbai City FC were called pathbreakers for Indian football, East Bengal striker Debasish Roy had drawn similar headlines. Now he lives in obscurity.
Rahul Bheke may have been the first Indian to score in the 'AFC Champions League' on Monday night, but neither Asia's premier club competition nor Saudi Arabia are strangers to seeing wonder goals by Indians.
When Debasish Roy had given East Bengal a 1-0 lead in a group match of the 1985 Asian Club Championship - the former version of the Asian Champions League - the Jeddah crowd had come into the field with cries of 'Allahu Akbar'.
"They were amazed that an Indian could score against them. They hadn't seen anything like that goal before. After the match, they gathered outside our team hotel and chanted my jersey number, our coach called me to the window to wave at them," the former footballer told The Bridge.
Saudi Arabian fans may be forgiven for not being able to pronounce Debasish's name. But history has been so unkind to Indian football greats that his name was never mentioned even on Monday as Bheke and Mumbai City FC were championed as the first Indian pathbreakers in Asian club football's top-tier competition.
Now living in a Guwahati house with no television, the 69-year-old Debasish does not watch football any more. "What's the point?" he said.
But his eyes do linger on the sports pages when reading the newspaper. The same newspapers that carried photos of him alongside greats like Krishanu Dey and Jamshed Nassiri four decades ago. The same newspapers which had celebrated him as the first Indian goal scorer in Asia's premier club competition in 1985.
Debasish had scored 10 goals in the ACC qualifying campaign and the only goal by EB in the main stages, in a 1-2 defeat to Al-Ahly.
On Bheke and Mumbai City FC's 'historic' feat, he said: "My records will never die, fans will remember them. As for me, my job was to score goals. I did that, there's no more use thinking about it," he said.
"It's good that the present generation is being given this publicity. In our times, we had zero facilities. Nowadays they have AC gyms, AC buses. I hope they can make the most of all the attention and facilities," he added.
Following the 1985 Asian Club Championship, Debasish became the highest paid footballer in Kolkata football - signing a Rs 2 lakh annual contract with Mohun Bagan. The striker would soon become one of the few players to have been the season's top scorer for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
"Football gave me my whole identity, even if it was not much. But my days are numbered, I don't think of football any more. It just makes me feel good when people remind me of those days," he said.