GUWAHATI, Jan 11 - Today, such incidents may seem bizarre, unbelievable. But, there were some incidents of abduction of footballers in West Bengal and Assam in the 1940s and 1950s, said noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika, adding that this also speaks volumes about the popularity football enjoyed in this part of the country about seven decades back.
Hazarika, who was speaking to this correspondent, said the State�s renowned right back late Sarat Das was abducted by the Mohun Bagan Club authorities while he was travelling to Calcutta to join the East Bengal Club.
Sarat Das was an undaunted right back and his performances in the 1940 Indian Football Association (IFA) Shield matches of the Maharana AC against the Mohammedan Sporting Club in Calcutta caught the attention of the managements of football clubs playing in the Calcutta Senior Division League.
In the said 1940 IFA Shield matches held at the Calcutta Football Club (CFC) Ground, the first match ended in a draw (1-1), and in the second match, Mohammedan Sporting Club defeated Maharana AC by a solitary goal. The first match saw Maharana AC scoring its goal through Hemanta Guha, its right out, within two minutes of start of the match. Mohammedan Sporting Club could score the equaliser only in the final minute of the match, that too after injuring several Maharana players. At that time, there was no rule for inducting substitute players.
This necessitated a replay of the match and the sensation it created made the All India Radio (AIR) broadcast the replayed match. This was an exception, as the AIR used to broadcast only the semi-final and final matches of the IFA Shield till then. The Gauhati football lovers gathered in hundreds in front of the Panbazar Telegraph Institute Club, opposite the original Cotton College Chemistry Building, that day to listen to the running commentary of the match. The Bengal Assembly�s second session that day was adjourned to enable its members to enjoy the match.
Mohammedan Sporting Club could score the only goal of the match in the final minute of play. Mohammedan Sporting won the match, but the Maharana AC players won the hearts of the football lovers and its players were carried to the pavilion by the Mohammedan players on their shoulders in a rare show of sportsmanship.
After these two matches, the dauntless Sarat Das (right back), Jiten Choudhury (left back), Binoy Ball (goalkeeper) and Bharat Choudhury (left out) were eyed by Kalighat, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. It needs mention that Hemanta Guha was already booked by Bhawanipur Club and he was the captain of that Calcutta soccer club. He could play for Maharana, his original team, with special permission.
Except Sarat Das, the others � Jiten Choudhury, Binoy Ball and Bharat Choudhury � were booked by Kalighat Club. Das was booked by East Bengal Club. Mohun Bagan also sought to book him, but it was a bit late in communicating its desire to him, said Hazarika.
On a particular day of 1941, Sarat Das took a Calcutta-bound passenger train from Amingaon. An East Bengal official was waiting for him at the Sealdah Railway Station. But three officials of Mohun Bagan were waiting for him at a railway station ahead of Sealdah. When the train Das was travelling by reached that station, they took him straight to a secret place and kept him there until the contract with him was finalised.
Sarat Das played for Mohun Bagan between 1941 and 1947, after which he hung up his boots. He led Mohun Bagan as its captain in 1946 and that year, Mohun Bagan lifted the IFA Shield. Before that it had won the trophy way back in 1911. Sarat Das became an icon and was declared one of the best ten Indian defenders of the 20th century by a survey conducted by some Calcutta agencies.
Jiten Choudhury, Binoy Ball and Bharat Choudhury returned to Gauhati in 1941 itself.
Another incident of abduction of footballers took place in Gauhati about ten years after the Calcutta incident. Maharana AC booked Paban Gohain and Toseswar Dutta of Sivasagar. They were abducted by a Gauhati Town Club (GTC) member from the Paltan Bazar Bus Stand of the then Government-run Assam State Transport (AST). They were taken to a Panbazar hotel and persuaded to play for the GTC in 1951-52, said Hazarika.