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Asian Games winner Prasanta Sinha passes away in Kolkata

OBITUARY
BY ATANU MITRA

Prasanta Sinha, the dominating left-half, who was part of India's 1962 Asian Games winning squad, breathed his last in Kolkata on Tuesday. He was 77-years-old.

Sinha, who excelled in a 4-2-4 formation in the sixties, started his career playing for Eastern Railways in 1957. Along with the legendary P.K.Banerjee, he was a pivotal part of the Railways team that won the Calcutta League in 1958. This was the last time a team other than East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting won the local league.

His consistent performances for the Kolkata side earned him a place in the Asian Games squad in 1962. The campaign started on a disappointing note for India, as they went down 2-0 to South Korea in the very first match. However, the team, coached by Abdul Rahim, went on to beat Thailand (4-1), Japan (2-0) and South Vietnam (3-2) to set up a summit clash with Korea again. While Sinha wasn't a starter, he came on as a replacement for Rambahadur, and made his debut in the semi-final against South Vietnam.

September 4, 1962 is often regarded as the best day in Indian football's history as the national team avenged their first day humiliation with a 2-1 victory against the mighty Koreans. Sinha walked into the history books on that day, as his assist led to Jarnail Singh's winner in the encounter, earning the nation its last continental championship till date.

After becoming a regular in the national set-up and finishing as the runners-up in the Merdeka Cup, Sinha jumped ship, signing in favour of local giants East Bengal. He would see out his career at the club, plying his trade till 1971 and also served as the captain in 1967. He had scored the solitary goal for the side against FC Tatabanya of Hungary in 1965, when the Red and Golds slumped to a 5-1 loss. As a captain, he scored the only derby goal of his career, netting in a 2-1 win against the Mariners in the Calcutta League.

The tough tackler also emerged as one of the leaders of the East Bengal dressing-room, often giving pep talks before the matches. According to the myths of the Maidan, on the eve of the Rovers Cup derby in 1967, Mohun Bagan coach Amal Dutta told a few East Bengal players that the Green and Maroons would win the tie 3-0. Sinha was amongst the audience and came back to the hotel to motivate his players even more. The rest was history, as the Red and Golds thrashed their arch-rivals 3-0 with Subhash Bhowmick running riot.

The best day of Sinha’s club career came on 25th September 1970, when East Bengal faced Asian Club Championship winners, Pas Club of Iran in the IFA Shield final. This was the season when Mumbaikar Mohammed Hossain was the coach of the side, however it was the two senior players – Shanto Mitra and Sinha, who made the calls.

Parimal De was not in the 16-man squad of the match, but moments before submitting the team sheet, Shanto included Parimal’s name after consultation with Sinha, with Shankar Banerjee making way for him.

The match was almost over with the deadlock yet to be broken, when Mohammed Habib got injured. Inside two minutes of coming on, Parimal was fed with a pass by Swapan Sengupta and pulled the trigger to send the crowd into a frenzy. A club, mostly supported by the refugees coming from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), finally had a victory against a mighty foreign outfit to boast of, which laid the foundation for many other success stories. Though Sinha didn’t coach any of the Kolkata giants, he set an example of his tactical acumen with that masterstroke. 

The legend of Indian football, like many of his teammates had to spend the latter years of his life in distress. Though East Bengal offered e best monetary solution they could, Sinha remained defiant.  

At a time, when the national team loses to the likes of Guam and Nepal, Sinha’s generation seems to have achieved the impossible, beating the likes of South Korea and Japan at their will. With the demise of Sinha, another golden chapter in India’s football history comes to a close.