In his halcyon days he was one of the best strikers in Indian football. In a career spanning over a period of 18 years, Ranjit Mukherjee became the top scorer twice in Calcutta Premier League, once jointly with Mohammed Akbar and on other occasion, he became the lone top scorer.
Mukherjee surpassed his competitors in Indian football that time, a galaxy of star strikers namely Subhash Bhowmick, Shyam Thapa, Sukalyan Ghosh Dastidar, Shabbir Ali, and later Jamshid Nassiri (they were dominating strikers in Kolkata Maidan at that time) on the way to becoming the top scorer. He still holds a rare record after 35 years of his retirement from football. Mukherjee is the only striker in the history of East Bengal Football Club history so far who had struck goals for East Bengal in its opening match in any tournament.
Even now, the 68-year-old striker, a resident of Khardah in North 24 Parganas of West Bengal, has not forgotten anything. Speaking to The Bridge recently, Mukherjee famous for his inimitable headers revealed he still remembers his special practice sessions to master the same. “The legendary footballer of 1950s, Kesto Pal once watched me in a district game. Then he advised me to change my stance while going for the header and simultaneously advised me to practice heading on a rubber ball standing in water. So I started doing it.”
“Standing on the ghat of a pool, drowning upto waist, I used to try to jump and head on a rubber ball every morning. The practice continued for hours. It helped me a lot. In the evening during training when I used to jump to head the ball, I felt my bodyweight had become lighter and I could even fly over the challenging defender in the air.”
After his retirement from football, Ranjit Mukherjee did not waste much time and started coaching. His debut stint was with Kidderpore, the same club where he started his journey in 1971. Post that, Mukherjee had coached more first division clubs including the junior team of East Bengal. Simultaneously, along with a few more former international footballers like Parimal Dey, Sushanta Ghosh, Chinmoy Chatterjee, Mohammed Nazir, he created a nursery football school in his locality in Khardah and named it Khardah Sports Academy.
A lot of footballers including Subrata Paul and Lalkamal Bhowmick, have spent some time in the academy and established themselves as Indian national team players later. Even one of the four under-17 World Cup stars from Bengal, Rahim Ali’s cradle was Khardah Sports Academy.
Mukherjee remembers two incidents which haunts him even today. One was his omission from senior Indian football team in 1978 Asian Games. Mukherjee said, “I was top scorer in three major domestic tournaments that year. I still wonder why I was not included in the team in that Games.”
The second incident is his lack of knowledge not utilised by Indian football fraternity. The striker mentioned, “I had undergone training in AS Roma for 23 days in 1990. I learnt a lot on coaching after discussions with legendary Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer. Inspite of producing success for clubs as a coach, I was not given proper opportunity.”
He is now happy with kids of his nursery football school and is in continuous search of bringing out another Ranjit Mukherjee. He has not found any such talent so far in last 31 years.
Mukherjee has another world that was not much discussed during his playing days or even during his coaching career. He had a deep passion for music and one of the uncles was directly associated with the Bollywood music industry. Mukherjee revealed, “I had gone to visit legendary music director SD Burman’s house in Mumbai several times. I had listened to RD Burman composing music in his home several times.”
“But I was simply mesmerized after watching one man. That was Mohammed Rafi. I met him couple of times in Mumbai. But I still remember vividly the day when I met him for the first time after the Rovers Cup final. Rafi Saab came at Cooperage Stadium as the chief guest. He shook hands with all the footballers. Everybody spoke to him but I could not. I was trembling and could not believe that he was standing in front and offering his hands towards me,” he added.
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