PART - 1st
HISTORY OF NEHRU GOLD CUP FOOTBALL IN INDIA : NIRMAL NATH
..Nehru Invitation International Gold Cup : This tournament once had put India on World Football Map as one of the best organisers.
Dr. Carlos Bilardo, who needs no introduction, left a dream unfulfilled in Kolkata. The coach of Argentina team that won 1986 World Cup and the mentor of the greatest footballer Diego Maradona, could not win the 1984 Nehru Gold Cup even with the help of seven players, excluding Maradona, who were later included in the World Cup winning team of 1986.
Argentina failed to qualify in the final, where Poland and less fancied team China fought for the title. China earned the final berth by virtue of their win against Argentina in round robin group league match. When he met Ashok Ghosh, the then secretary of All India Football Federation in Mexico during 1986 World Cup, Dr. Bilardo screamed, "Hey man, you must call me next time to compete in your tournament, I have to win that one." However, AIFF failed to bring such high profile teams from Latin America for the later editions of Nehru Cup, so Dr. Bilardo's dream remained unfulfilled.
The competition, which started at Kolkata with a galaxy of top-level global stars playing at Eden Gardens in 1982, was given a real touch of class before packed galleries by players like Enzo Francescoli and Valencio Ramos. Francescolli's sparkling career saw him play at the highest club level, not only in Uruguay but also in Argentina, France and Italy and earn the admiration of fans the world over. He was affectionately called 'El Principe' (The Prince). Uruguay, twice World Cup champions and the team the duo turned out for, won the first edition of the championship defeating China.
TV was introduced in Kolkata in 1975 and football lovers of the city had seen the 1978 World Cup through television. Before that they had seen some good teams in action from Moscow Locomotive and Combined XI of former Soviet Union, Helsingberg of Sweden, VFB of Germany, Silvan Club of the then Czechoslovakia and Tatabania of Hungary and of course Crock Town of USA, that included King Pele and Alberto Carlos. Credit should go to Late Dhiren Dey, the then Secretary of Mohun Bagan Club for bringing Pele in Kolkata and let the football lovers had glimpse of King's magic touch.
But inception of Nehru Gold Cup was something historic, because for the first time people had the opportunity to watch international matches between Latin American and European countries fighting for the laurel in front of their eyes, was simply unbelievable. Kolkata went in rampage to see the Latin American and European football flair at the same time.
Ramos and Francescoli mesmerised football lovers of Kolkata with their superb touch and ball control. Throughout his long and successful playing career, Francescoli, or El Principe (the Prince) as he was known, cut a dash on the playing field with his inimitable blend of elegance and skill.
Football was the most popular sport in India even a couple of years ago. Semifinal between the archrivals of Kolkata in 1997 Federation Cup was seen by more than 1,30,000 people. Even now around one lac people used to fill up Salt Lake Stadium in any important match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
Kerala's soccer organisers succeeded in building stadiums in several districts by holding the Nehru Cup, Federation Cup and the Santosh Trophy. For long time, due to organisational problem the Nehru Cup had been cast off the AIFF's programme.
Later it was disclosed that the dates for the tournament had to be finalised eight months in advance and the teams had to confirm six months in advance, which was simply impossible for AIFF to ensure. However, the tournament has revived in 2007 with some lowly ranked Asian teams.
(Source: "History of Indian Football" written by veteran Soccer Journalist Nirmal Nath) Buy the Book to know more about History of Indian Football then e-mail to (email@example.com) for details.
To be continued : stay with us for next part