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The 50s and 60s were undoubtedly the golden era of Indian National team. In those days India was one of the superpowers in Asian circuit and also eked out some memorable results against European teams. One of Indiaai??i??s biggest strengths in those days was a dynamic forward line of PK Banerjee , Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram, three musketeers of Indian football, players whose names were chanted with almost religious devotion. Banerjee and Goswami went on to become acclaimed football personalities after leaving the game but the third musketeer faced only rejection and humiliation. This is the story of Tulsidas Balram, a tragic hero in Indian football.

Rahim saab Unearths a Gem

Born on 4th October 1937 in a remote village near Secundrabad, Balaram came into the football world when Hyderabad was a dominant force in Indian football. Under the guidance of SA Rahim Nizamai??i??s state had begun to challenge the might of Calcutta clubs. A number of footballers from the state played for the national team while the Hyderabad City Police team was unstoppable in the Rovers Cup.

When he was young Balaram idolised footballer Sushe (Junior) and tried to imitate his playing style. His father was strictly against playing football but Balaram braved all odds and continued. In 1955 he joined the football division of Army Combined Force. Months later he was asked to represent a club from Hyderabad to play the final of a local tournament. Balaram played brilliantly in the final, inspiring his team to the title. Rahim saab was present as a guest during the final and he understood that he was witnessing a very special player. Balaram was instantly included in Hyderabadai??i??s Santosh Trophy team.

His first Santosh Trophy didnai??i??t pan out memorably as Hyderabad failed to reach the final. The following year a better, more polished Balaram and Hyderabad team arrived in Santosh Trophy, saw it and conquered it. Balaram scored a vital late equalizer in the final when Mumbai was leading 1-1. Rahimai??i??s team was unstoppable in the replay final, romping to a 4-1 win with Balaram scoring twice. His performance in Santosh Trophy earned him a call for the National Team selection camp for 1956 Olympics.

The selection of final team saw a heated debate between AIFF president M Dutta Roy and Rahim saab. Roy wanted to follow the tradition of taking more players from Bengal while Rahim wanted more players from Hyderabad. A match was organized to settle this conflict ai??i?? Hyderabad against Bengal. Balaram played for his state in this match and led them to a comfortable 3-0 victory, proving Rahim saab right. He was promptly selected for the 1956 Olympics.

Indiaai??i??s performance in Melbourne Games has gone down in history books. India became the first Asian country to reach last four in Olympics football. Being a relatively newcomer in the team, Balaram didnai??i??t feature in the first XI regularly but the experience he gathered improved his abilities.

Joining East Bengal and Excelling with India

In 1957 the legendary JC Guha brought Balaram in East Bengal. Calcutta football was the hotbed of superstars at that time and Balaram quickly became one of the biggest stars. He was not the most physically imposing player but what set him apart were his effectiveness, skill and consistency. Playing as a left inside forward for the Red & Golds he was more than a creator, scoring goals regularly. In his eight seasons in Kolkata, Balaram scored 78 goals, a rarity among inside forwards of his era. He was a crowd puller and East Bengal supporters adored him to no extent. He also developed a keen rivalry with two of his national team mates ai??i?? Chuni Goswami and Jarnail Singh, both playing for arch rival Mohun Bagan. There are many tales and anecdotes regarding their rivalry but off-field they always remained close friends and respected each other.

Jarnail Singh, who was rarely intimidated by opponent forwards, regarded Balaram as the toughest opponent he ever played against. According to the fiery Sikh, he was the only forward who couldnai??i??t be deterred despite being subjected to tough tackles. In 1961, Balaram scored a memorable goal against Mohun Bagan after outfoxing Jarnail. He slid into the penalty box from left side and scored a goal with the out step of his right boot from almost zero degree.

The three musketeers. Chuni, PK, Balaram (left to right)

Balaram relished his tussles with his good friend Chuni Goswami. Once during a Kolkata derby East Bengal defender Hasan Sardar tried to injure Goswami with rough tackles. An irate Balaram complained to his coach saying that if Chuni was injured then the papers would say that Balaram dominated a game without opponentai??i??s best player. He furiously declared that he didnai??i??t want to be part of such dirty tactics; Sardar was promptly excluded for second half.

Balaramai??i??s performances against International teams are no less spectacular. He was one of the prime components of Indiaai??i??s Gold winning team of 1962. He played every single game and scored goals against Thailand and Japan. In the final, Indiaai??i??s first goal was a text-book combination goal by the three musketeers. Balaram won possession in midfield and released Goswami with a perfect through. Goswami threaded the ball to PK, who finished with a flourish.

Two brilliant performances by Balaram came during Rome Olympics. Having trailed Hungary 2-0 at half time, India came back spiritedly in second half ai??i?? launching wave after wave of attack. Goswami dribbled past two defenders and Balaram anticipated his pass to make the scoreline 2-1. India didnai??i??t defeat Hungary but almost upset ai??i??58 World Cup semi-finalists France few days later. Balaram was again unstoppable as India held on to a 1-0 lead deep into second half. Sadly, a mistake from Ram Bahadur denied India a famous victory.

According to Chuni Goswami, Balaramai??i??s best game for India came against Hong Kong in 1958 Asian Games. The match went into extra-time after the scoreline was 2-2 during normal time. Balaram showed peak performance in extra time, assisting two goals and scoring once as India ran out 5-2 victors. He played on with a bandage despite getting injured.

A Unique Footballer

Famous journalist Ajay Basu described Balaram as superb inside forward. Basu further said that his improvisation, industriousness and ability to hit curling shots were second to none. While Chuni Goswami had more flair in his play, Balaram had more variety and versatility.

Former India International and eminent defender Arun Ghosh describe Balaram as a man who had two eyes on the back of his head ai??i?? so good was his ball distribution. He was also the heart of his teams, directing every attacking move.

Chuni Goswami laments Balaramai??i??s departure from International football. In an article he wrote that Balaramai??i??s football sense was his biggest asset. His shooting and ball control was art of the very highest class. The man himself was quiet and reserved but his contribution to the team was incredible.

Such was Balaramai??i??s effectiveness that he displaced Chuni Goswami, the greatest Indian player of all times according to many, from the latterai??i??s preferred left inside forward position for the national team.

In 1961 Balaram was selected as East Bengal captain ai??i?? he led from the front and played one of his best ever seasons. He top scored with 23 goals, won the leagueai??i??s best player award and also led his club to do a double over Mohun Bagan. His popularity among the Red & Golds faithful knew no bounds. In early 60s Mohun Baganai??i??s Dhiren De once tried hard to sign Balaram for the club. As rumours spread hundreds of East Bengal supporters began to protest. To calm the situation East Bengal officials flew to Secundrabad to convince Balaram. The player himself had to come to the club premises to give assurance to supporters.

Balaram retired in 1963 owing to health related issues. His absence was strongly felt by the Indian team in Asian Cup the following year.

Ignored, Insulted, Mistreated

For a footballer whose popularity and performances in all versions of the game has few parallels, Balaramai??i??s life is full with far too many cases of shoddy treatment. Some of it took place during his playing days, incredibly.

When Balaram returned from 1961 Merdeka Cup he learnt that his mother was sick. He flew to Hyderabad to take care of her and returned to Kolkata after a few days. He was extremely hurt to learn the fact that the club had deducted his plane fare from his contract money. The following year East Bengal officials accused Balaram of not playing to his potential when they lost to Hyderabad City Police in IFA Shield semi-final. Their accusation was based on the fact that Balaram hailed from the same state!

Balaram (left) finally gets some much-needed recognition

Balaram received Arjuna award in 1962 with Goswami getting a year later. Balaram didnai??i??t get any accolades from his club. Chuni Goswami on the other hand received grand ceremonies from both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Ironically it was Balaram who was asked to hand Goswami a memento in East Bengalai??i??s ceremony. Despite feeling insulted, Balaram sportingly obliged as Goswami was his dear friend.

The worst treatment came in 1989 when he was nominated for the Padmashree Award, one of the highest civilian awards in India. Most of the formalities were completed and some of the newspapers had also reported that he would be receiving the award. He was denied at the very last moment when some officials decided to hold back his award. Balaram carries the mental scar of this event to this day.

In 1970s he was employed by AIFF as a selector. His post eventually proved to be just a symbolic one as he found out teams were often selected without informing him. An irritated Balaram resigned after a few days.

As coach of Calcutta Mayorai??i??s XI Balaram played a part in bringing up players like Basudev Mandal and Sangram Mukherjee. However, he had to face hurdles in every step. When a youth team under his coaching got an invitation to play in Germany, his visa was denied by Indian Govt. AIFF under Priyaranjan Dasmunshi refused to clear his visa on time. His team eventually played wonderfully in Berlin, remaining unbeaten in four games.

Having faced insults countless times Balaram eventually removed himself from football altogether. He spends his days in a flat in Uttarpara on the outskirts of Kolkata, rarely giving interviews. Two years back he finally received some much needed recognition from East Bengal club though he is yet to receive his Padmashree. In a short interview published in Ananda Bazar Patrika in 2001, Balaram said that he would want to be born as a footballer again but not an Indian footballer.

Sources: Stories from Indian Football: Jaydeep Basu, articles on Khela Magazine

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  • Abhijnan

    Another sad tale of a legend!

  • Jino

    A very good read. Another sad state of affairs of a talented sportsman. If only there were more videos, articles of our courageous footballing past, the new generatiön will be motivated.