Samar Banerjee: The man who led India in the 1956 Olympics

Samar Banerjee holds the distinction of winning the Santosh trophy both as a player and a coach…

Grand stories often have very humble beginnings. Samar, alias Badru, Banerjee’s tale also treads along the same lines. 

Born to Sasanka Sekhar Banerjee in Bali, Howrah district, on January 30, 1930, he grew up in a household where football was a way of life. Almost every evening, an informal adda’ session would take place in the courtyard of his house and a young Badru would listen in awe to the various stories of the Kolkata Maidan. 

“My father was very strict. He would scold me a lot for ignoring my studies but in spite of that, I would go there and listen to the elders talking about Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, and various other clubs of the Maidan. I was shoved away many times but my attention would always be there,” recounted Banerjee almost a year back in an interview to the Mohun Bagan website. 

From a very tender age, he went to the grounds of Bali Hindu Sporting Club and sometimes to Bali Wellington Club to play football in the afternoon after coming back from school. 

“Those afternoon sessions were very important. I learnt to play with boots during this time. Therefore later in my career, when some of my Indian teammates would be uncomfortable playing with boots, I had not much of a problem.”

In 1948, he joined a professional club in Bali Prativa Club and started playing in division three of the Calcutta Football League (CFL). In his very first season, he caught the imagination of a few clubs from the higher divisions. Next season, he stepped out of his familiar surroundings of Bali to play for Bengal Nagpur Railway Club (BNR) in the Maidan. He continued his prolific performances for BNR as well and soon won the Lower Division Championship to fire the office-club to the Premier Division. 

He was roped in by Mohun Bagan where he would play for eight seasons and win almost every major trophy with the club.

Meanwhile, he also registered himself as a medical student at the RG Kar Medical College. His family stressed on the importance of formal education and Banerjee would have to juggle between football and medicine. But soon he had to make a choice and the legendary forward chose football ahead of education. 

“I used to love the round leather ball and while studying medicine, I made my India debut. I had to roam around the world like a skylark. Therefore I left medical studies after the third year. This generation leaves football for a better career.”

Badru Banerjee

In his debut season at Bagan, they lifted the IFA Shield jointly with Rajashthan Club. After a goalless draw in the first match, both teams were locked 2-2 in the replay. In the very next season in 1953, the green and maroon brigade would go on to win their first Durand Cup and Banerjee played a key role in the knockout stages.

In the semi-finals, Bagan beat a mighty Hyderabad Police team 2-1 and Banerjee scored the winner. Whereas, in the final, he found the net once again to trounce National Defense Academy 4-0. 

In 1954, Mohun Bagan bagged their first-ever double – Calcutta Football League & IFA Shield. And Banerjee once stole the limelight after scoring against Hyderabad Police in the Shield final. By this time, he had also become a regular in the Indian national team under Syed Abdul Rahim.

In his fourth season with the Kolkata giants, he created another milestone by helping Bagan to win their first Rovers Cup. He would once again score in the final and this time in a 2-0 win over local rivals Mohammedan Sporting. He even won the Santosh Trophy that season, for the second time in three years, with Bengal. 

Banerjee reached the zenith of his success in 1956. He was given the armband for the national team and it was under his leadership that India would take the pitch in the Melbourne Olympics in Australia. 

After getting a walkover against Hungary, India thrashed Australia 4-2 in the quarterfinal to book a berth in the semi-finals where they would eventually lose out to Yugoslavia. 

“We were really fast and Australia could not do anything in the first half. I played as a right-inside forward in that match. My combination with Neville (Neville D’Souza, who scored a hat-trick) worked wonders. Rahim Saab was a strict disciplinarian. We trained in the morning and evening like slaves. He could understand our psychology very well. We were loyal soldiers of Rahim Saab,” expressed Banerjee. 

At the club level, Mohun Bagan won their second double and the forward was in the thick of things. He was the second-highest scorer in that season, while Kesto Pal topped the scoring charts. 

Badru Banerjee

In 1958, he became the club captain but unfortunately, Bagan finished as runners-up in three competitions. They missed the CFL by a couple of points and lost in the Shield final and Rovers Cup final. 

During his eight-year stint with Mohun Bagan, Badru Banerjee scored four and five goals against East Bengal and Mohammedan respectively.  In 1959, he was offered a job with Burma Shell Company and got posted in Siliguri. Such was his passion for the game, he started flying to Kolkata to train at the club but for obvious reasons could not continue for long. He eventually decided to hang up his boots at the end of the 1959 season.

After retiring from football, he started training Barisha SC and then the Bengal football team in Santosh Trophy. In 1961 he won the national championship and thereafter served as a selector for a few seasons.  

On January 30, 2020, a postal stamp was unveiled in the club premises in recognition of his contribution to Indian football. He is still a ‘Mohun Bagani’ and even at 90, he visits a football ground whenever possible to inspire budding footballers in Howrah.