Shibaji Banerjee died on February 19, 2017 because of a cardiac arrest. He was 68 years old. Few of us know who he is (barring football fans in Kolkata). Hardly any one of us would have paid attention to the announcement of his death, a small obituary may have been carried by mainstream media (if that).
Banerjee played for Mohun Bagan A.C. in the 1970s. He also played for the Indian national team but that was a short-lived stint. For a detailed account of Banerjee’s domestic career, read this piece.
We are going to focus on the most talked-about moment in Banerjee’s life. It was 1977 and Mohun Bagan were playing against New York Cosmos–the US football club where Pele was plying his trade in Kolkata. Mohun Bagan were coming off a horrid run of form (relatively speaking), after losing the 1977 Federation Cup final to ITI and losing to East Bengal in the Calcutta Football League.
New York Cosmos took on Mohun Bagan as both sides played out a 2-2 draw. The one reason why Bagan managed to draw against Cosmos was Banerjee. Two instances stand out. One was a free kick in the second half that was stopped by Banerjee. Banerjee’s moment of glory came in the first half. Pele was dangerously close to the goal and it looked like a shoe-in. Banerjee threw himself to the ground near Pele’s feet and just smothered the ball. Pele had no choice but to opt out of taking the kick.
Watch this video here. The footage is spotty but you’ll get to see Pele and Banerjee if you look really, really hard.
Banerjee played for Mohun Bagan until 1987 following which he oversaw the football team of the Calcutta Port Trust.