NEW DELHI: Not long back, there was a time when breaking into the West Bengal Santosh Trophy team was more difficult than finding a place in the Indian National Team! Ask Tanumoy Basu, the former India Goalkeeper, presently the Goalkeeping Coach of Pailan Arrows, who has been part of 14 Santosh Trophies for Railways and West Bengal.
“There are so many such instances when players who represented India couldn’t get a place in Bengal’s Starting XI,” Basu recollects. “A place in the Bengal side was seen as an achievement. We used to play for our respective clubs throughout the season only to get selected for the Santosh Trophy,” he adds.
“All of us, used to look forward to the Nationals as that was the opportunity to prove our mettle against the best in the business,” Basu quips.
Plying his trade with Railways and West Bengal, Basu tasted success with his native state winning three titles for West Bengal, also Captaining the most accomplished outfit to glory in the 1994-95 edition.
“I’m proud to say that I was the captain of the side which won 31 trophies in total, in the year 1994. I remember Bhaichung (Bhutia) scoring the winner, then the golden goal, in extra time. We won 2-1 against Punjab. It was euphoric. I cannot put it in words,” Basu recollected.
He hadn’t finished yet. Continuing in the same verve, Basu narrated: “In Kerala they used to have temporary bamboo stands for the Tournament. I remember the galleries getting full by morning itself. People used to flock like anything. Tickets used to get sold in no time for big matches, Bengal playing Kerala, for example.”
“Icons like IM Vijayan, Bhaichung, Joe Paul Ancheri; coaches of the calibre of Pradip-da (PK Banerjee), Nayeem-da (Syed Nayeemuddin) were all part of the Santosh Trophy,” he concluded.
“I feel scouts should pay a little more attention to the Santosh Trophy. A lot of budding talent goes unnoticed. Club representatives should go and watch these boys play. Indian is a vast country, and states which don’t have an I-League team have only the Santosh Trophy to put to the fore their skills.”
Former India Captain and talismanic striker Shabbir Ali picked up from when Basu left. “To me, the State Team stays of paramount importance. States who don’t have any representation in the I League, get a chance to show what they can offer. If you have I-League coaches or even assistant coaches to watch the Santosh Trophy matches, it will do Indian football a world do good,” asserted Ali who played for both Bengal and Maharashtra in the coveted meet.
Ali thanked the AIFF for the timing of the Santosh Trophy. “The fact that Santosh Trophy is starting in February-March is a good thing. Teams like Services and Railways who practice till January stay fresh during this time. Also the weather is conducive for quality football. AIFF should be credited for this move.”
“My triumph with West Bengal back in 1979 will remain in my memory forever. We beat Goa by a solitary goal in the final. There were all stars playing for the Bengal Team. It was unbelievable.”