The upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) season will mark the beginning of yet another chapter for East Bengal and as part of our pre-season coverage, we recently interviewed Anthony Pilkington, the Red and Golds’ big signing of the season. However, more than the interview, a snapshot of the video interaction went viral among East Bengal fans on social media and it didn’t have anything to do with Pilkington.
In fact, the only reason it caught so many eyes was because of a picture of former East Bengal great Parimal Dey, an almost forgotten hero now, which was hung on the wall behind Pilkington.
@QEBNA @EBRPFC @ebultras1920 guys, please notice the background, photo of Parimal Dey is hanging, that too in Goa hotel.. Isn't it awesome? What say? #legacyiswelltakencareof #joyeas https://t.co/DOse1ICeV8
— Supantha Roy (@SupanthaRoy2) November 4, 2020
In case you didn’t know, it was Parimal Dey who had scored the winning goal for East Bengal against PAS Club of Iran in the 1970 IFA Shield Final inside a packed Eden Gardens. It was the first time since independence that an Indian club beat a foreign opponent in a competitive match and for East Bengal, this win would go on to lay the foundation for the most successful period in the club’s history between 1970 and 1975.
And so, The Bridge caught up with the Red and Gold legend who is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s, and with his son Pratik’s help, we picked his brain about how football, and his beloved East Bengal, have changed over the years.
Self-admittedly, he did not grasp the importance of scoring the winner against PAS Club until much later. “It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even realise that history had been created even after two to three days after the match. The whole feeling took time to seep in,” reminisced the veteran striker.
Parimal Dey scored the goal in front of a 80,000-odd crowd at the Eden Gardens 🏟️
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) September 25, 2020
The fact that he had just come on in place of the injured Mohammed Habib when he found the net made for an even more dramatic climax, a feeling that was reciprocated through the celebrations in the crowd that day as thousands of East Bengal fans lit paper torches or ‘moshals’ to commemorate the occasion.
‘Jongla da’, as he was fondly known in the Kolkata footballing circuit, isn’t one of those former players who have a problem with how football has evolved over the years. When we asked him if today’s football features more strength than skill, he replied, “Yes it is more power and comparatively lesser skill nowadays. You won’t find a Chuni Goswami or Kajal Mukherjee today. But football was very competitive even during our time and it will always stay the same way.”
Something that intrigues him though is the glamour and exposure that is associated with modern day football. The fact that the ISL is slowly starting to attract better quality foreign players further proves that, with all its parts functioning properly, the league can indeed create a footballing ecosystem in the country and at the same time provide youngsters the opportunity to play with better players.
In the same context, we asked him his pick of the top five foreigners to have played in the country. “Majid Beshkar, Jamshid Nassiri, Chima Okorie, Jose Ramirez Barreto and Emeka Ezeugo,” the stalwart replied promptly.
East Bengal: Peter Thangaraj; Sudhir Karmakar, Syed Nayeemuddin, Prasanta Sinha, Santo Mitra; Samaresh Chowdhury (Kalon Guha), Kajal Mukherjee; Swapan Sengupta, Ashok Chatterjee, Mohammed Habib (Parimal Dey), Shyam Thapa.#LetsCelebrate #50yearsCompleted #VoEBs pic.twitter.com/mbudPmOmdl
— Voice of East Bengalians (@VoEBs11) September 25, 2020
Having seen players like Pele, Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli and more recently Lionel Messi play live in India, we sought his views on what needs to change for India to be able to produce players of that calibre. “More and more games with top foreign teams. That is the most important thing in my opinion. There is no shame or harm even if our boys lose by a big margin. That is the only way they are going to learn how to play and with time, hopefully, try to beat them at their own game,” he expressed.
With the increase in the number of teams in this year’s ISL from ten to eleven, the country is finally taking baby steps towards addressing this issue. Moreover, FC Goa and ATK Mohun Bagan are also set to play in next season’s AFC Champions League and AFC Cup respectively, something that is sort of an uncharted territory for Indian clubs.
Together with the restructuring of the I-League and the five-year plan laid down by the All India Football Federation, Indian football seems to be going in the right direction, for now.
On being asked how the former East Bengal captain feels about the Indian Super League as well as the century-old club’s chances in the upcoming season, he replied, “The ISL is where the money is, and renowned players from all over the world are coming to India to be part of the tournament which can only be good in the long run. As far as East Bengal is concerned, I wish the team all the very best. I hope they play like East Bengal always do, with belief and the will to fight.”
Robbie Fowler’s men would be better advised if they could read that last statement from the club legend as they embark on what is going to be a very difficult first ISL season for the club. More so because half the world’s Bengali population would be pinning their hopes on them to play like a team that they can be proud of, like the side that announced the arrival of Indian football on the global stage some five decades ago.