Samar Banerjee or ‘Badru Da’ as he is famously known is regarded as one of the stalwarts of the Indian football squad that made its name at international stage during the 1950s. Born to Sasanka Sekhar Banerjee in Bali, Howrah district, Badru Da was a legendary striker who, along with his coach then - Syed Abdul Rahim Saab, is said to have sparked what is now known as the ‘Golden Era’ of Indian Football.
Playing In Lower Division Leagues:
Currently aged 81, Banerjee started his career from a division three club - Bali Prativa Club, in 1948 with whom he did exceedingly well. He soon moved to the Bengal Nagpur Railway (B.N.R) Team. Slowly and gradually, he won the lower league championship on his move up to the highest level, where he started to play for an Indian football giant – Mohun Bagan in 1952.
Badru Da - A Medical Student:
Samar Banerjee studied medicine from RG Kar Medical College for three years after which his passion for football and his will to make a career in the sport saw him leave his degree for the beautiful game. During his time with the college, he was already an Indian International.
Badru Da represented Bengal in Santosh Trophy from 1952-1956. He won the Santosh Trophy in 1953 and 1955 with Bengal and then went on to captain the state in 1956, round about the same time when he was also made the national captain.
Badru Da has often called himself ‘not a supporter but a Mohun Bagani since birth’. During his time at Bagan, in his debut season the Kolkata giants became the joint winners of the IFA Shield in 1952. The following year, with him scoring in both - the semis and the finals, the Mariners won the Durand Cup for the first time in 1953. He also played a significant role in 1954 as the men in Green and Maroon went on to bag their first ever double - Calcutta Football League & IFA Shield. Banerjee scored the winner against Hyderabad Police in the final of the IFA Shield, a goal that he regards as one of the most important in his career. In 1955, he won the Rovers Cup with Mohun Bagan and then, his plentiful goals guided the club to their second double in 1956.
After captaining the Indian team for almost two years, he was given the arm band at Mohun Bagan in 1958, as well. Coming extremely close to winning the golden treble, Bagan ended the season trophy-less as they lost the finals of all the three tournaments.
Following his retirement, although he was a Mohun Bagani from the core but an incident in the All Airlines Gold cup between Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting made him cancel his membership. After many years, when his beloved club won the National Football League (I-League now) under Chattuni, as a part of the celebration, President Tutu Bose requested Badru Da to again become a member, and the legendary player obliged.
Under the man whom he calls ‘the greatest coach ever’ – Rahim Saab (Syed Abdul Rahim), his playing as well as leadership skill shone as the combination of captain and coach lead India to semi-finals of the Olympic Football tournament. India became the first ever Asian country to achieve this feat. Rahim Saab was a conventional coach who had extremely high moral values and was very strict with the team in terms of discipline, also, a very good tactician. Unlike the present Indian style of playing football, to his Indian teams of the 1950s and the early 1960s, Rahim Saab emphasized on playing the game with a quick and a speedy movement by demanding exceptional fitness levels and stamina – especially, because those days never had the provision of getting players substituted.
Badru Da often came back to support the midfield, on occasions he also helped out in the defence. Thus, his partnership with Keshto Pal, who was a poacher, the Indian strike force excelled at the top level. Pal was a very good header of the ball, who constantly proved to be a threat on other team’s goal. With Pal drawing (at times) even two defenders, Banerjee playing behind him got the ball, found space and worked wonders.
After reaching the quarter finals, Team India lead by Samar Banerjee defeated Australia 4-2 but then crashed out of the tournament 4-1 losing to a very strong Yugoslavian team, which had beaten a good United States outfit 9-1 earlier in the tournament. When we spoke to Badru da, he told us of Soviet Union’s - Igor Aleksandrovich Netto’s (one of the greatest footballers of his time) – ability, regarding him as the finest player that he has ever played against. Netto was one of the greatest reasons for the Soviet Union winning gold at the Melbourne Summer Olympics in 1956.
Even though he was such an important personnel in the legendary Indian team of Olympics 1956, he practiced harder each day in order to not lose his position in the team as he knew that there were many players breathing down his neck willing to take his position. Under such a dynamic and a magician orchestrator in Rahim Saab, India already had a system in place wherein the players would naturally come through and get their desired chance like Badru da once got.
Barefoot To Football Boots Transformation:
Indians played football barefoot but as the time passed, even the Indian players were made to wear boots and play. Having grown up playing with boots on, Badru da was more equipped as compared to the other Indian players. However, during a match of the 1956 Olympics, Banerjee removed his boots and went to field barefooted.
Career Cut Short:
Badru Da has often claimed in the past that the media of the late 1950s never did him any favours, as a few underperformances on his part lead to him being criticized severely cutting short a football career that had more to offer. He was also doing a government job had him posted in Siliguri and he often commuted via flights to attend practice sessions which couldn’t continue long enough. He retired as a Mohun Bagan player in 1959.
Life As a Coach:
Samar Banerjee coached Barisha and Bengal sides, and led the Bengal outfit to a Santosh Trophy triumph in 1961 but surprisingly, never got an offer from any of the big clubs. Badru Da later became selector and was a reason for selecting the best crop of players coming through.
For years, the legendary Badru Da and his fellow Indian Football teammates of 1956 were lost in the pages of Indian history until the former Sports Minister of India, Dr. M. S. Gill felicitated the surviving team members on February 23, 2009.
Where Is He Now?
Badru Da may be 81-year-old now, but his passion for the sport and his love for his beloved Mohun Bagan still exists. He still is a ‘Mohun Bagani’ and often visits the club that gave him some of the priceless years of his life. More than a football lover, he is someone who also looks at an opportunity to do his bit for the game in India. Badru Da still talks of Rahim Saab and how he sacrificed his life for Indian Football. Being his admirer, the former Indian Olympic football captain tries to follow his footsteps by doing his best for Indian football, even if it is raising funds for academies which coach youngsters in Kolkata.