Mohun Bagan Ratna 2021
Over the course of Mohun Bagan’s 132 year old glorious history many goalkeepers have left an indelible mark. One name that comes before anyone else’s name in mid 1970s till early 1980s is that of Shibaji Banerjee. He was born on 26th November, 1952. Graduated from Bangabashi College in commerce stream. Besides his studies, he was also involved with football – quite naturally as it was in his blood.
Shibaji Banerjee was inspired to become a goalkeeper as it ran in his family. Father Subodh Banerjee was a famous ‘keeper of his time, playing with Kalighat and Mohun Bagan in 1930s. In 1936 the Chinese Olympic team came to India to play a few exhibition matches. On 4th of July, they played their first match in Kolkata – a 1-1 draw. Subodh Banerjee was the goalkeeper of that Indian team. Shibaji Banerjee joined Mohun Bagan in 1975 from Howrah Union but left a year later for Aryan Club due to limited playing time. In 1976 his performance against the Kolkata giants earned praise and so in 1977 he returned to Mohun Bagan, to start a new era. He played in Mohun Bagan from 1977 till 1985. In 1977 he was not the first choice initially as Mohun Bagan surprisingly lost to ITI in Federation Cup final. After losing the first derby in Kolkata League PK Banerjee gave in to fan pressure and gave Shibaji Banerjee a first team spot.
Mohun Bagan soon turned a corner. On 24th September, Mohun Bagan took on a New York Cosmos side featuring Pele in front of a packed Eden Gardens. This match proved to be a milestone in Shibaji Banerjee’s career and his goalkeeping is fondly remembered by football lovers till date. Pele had received a cross in the six year box and just when it looked like an inevitable goal, Shibaji Banerjee bravely dived on feet, making a last ditch save. Pele also showed superb sportsmanship, leaping over the keeper so that the latter didn’t get injured. He also made a sharp save off a Pele freekick in that match. The King of Football also praised Shibaji Banerjee’s performance in the felicitation given by Mohun Bagan at Grand Hotel after the match.
After a few days Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal in IFA Shield final to start the cycle that would end in triple crown. It was Shibaji Banerjee’s first derby. His record in the derby is enviable – played 18, won 7, lost just 3. In 1978 he further won praise thanks to his performance against Ararat Yerevan, one of erstwhile Soviet Union’s top club sides of that era.
Shibaji Banerjee became most famous for his ability to save penalty kicks. In 1978 he helped Mohun Bagan defeat Kerala’s Premier Tires in Sait Nagjee Trophy semi-final. In the same year, he was the start of Mohun Bagan’s victory against ITI in Federation Cup semi-final and JCT in Durand Cup semi-final. But one famous tie-breaker that fans still remember fondly was that of 1980 Federation Cup semi-final against Mohammedan SC. After a close fought match coach Arun Ghosh brought on Shibaji Banerjee as a substitute for the tie breaker. He didn’t disappoint – saving both Mohammed Akbar and Victor Amalraj’s shots to take Mohun Bagan to the final. The following year he saved Majid Bishkar’s penalty in Federation Cup semi-final second leg. Shibaji Banerjee was part of the Mohun Bagan squads that won Federation Cup (4 times), IFA Shield (5 times), Durand Cup (6 times), Rovers Cup (3 times) and Calcutta League (4 times). He also won other trophies like Darjeeling Gold Cup, Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup, Bordoloi Trophy and Nagjee Trophy.
He was picked for the Bengal Santosh trophy team even before he had played for any big club. He later represented Bengal in Santosh trophy in 1976, 77, 78 and 80. Till 1985 he played at Mohun Bagan. After leaving he remained in close touch with the club. In 2014/15 he was part of the technical committee, overseeing an I-League victory which came after a wait of 13 years.
He was also a competent cricketer and played in CAB First Division league with likes of Sporting Union, Kalighat and National AC. He scored 4 centuries in CAB League. Besides batting he was also an off break bowler. In 1974 he along with Syed Nayeemuddin, Raja Mukherjee, Malay Banerjee and Samar Mukherjee joined Hindustan Fertilizers. In 1992 he joined Calcutta Port Trust where he became the Sports Officer. As secretory of Major Port Sports Control Board he travelled abroad multiple times. He was CAB Vice President from 2005 till 2011.
Shibaji Banerjee remains a popular figure among Mohun Bagan fanbase till date. Sadly, he breathed his last on 19th February, 2017. Shibaji Banerjee has been conferred with the prestigious Mohun Bagan Ratna posthumously in 2021.