Kolkata, July 11 (IANS) Hundreds of fans paid a tearful farewell as the country’s first professional full-time football coach and India international Amal Dutta was cremated with state honours here on Monday.
Police personnel reversed arms and gave a gun salute with the bugle sounding the mourning tune at the Nimtala crematorium in north Kolkata in the presence of a host of former and current footballers, state ministers and a large number of grieving people.
The mortal remains of Dutta — credited with changing the game in the country with his tactical acumen during numerous coaching assignments spread over five decades — was consigned to the flames after his son lit the funeral pyre.
Dutta, 86, passed away at a city hospital on Sunday following old age related complications.
Dutta’s last journey began at around 8 a.m when the body was brought to Rabindra Sadan to enable the public to pay their last respects.
Hundreds poured in for a last glimpse of the venerated coach, who introduced the 4-2-4 as also the 4-4-2 formations and the much acclaimed Diamond system in Indian football.
State sports minister Aroop Biswas and junior sports minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla were also present.
Later, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived to pay her last respects.
“His death is a big setback for us. We have lost a great man. He was dedicated football lover and a teacher. This is an irreplaceable loss. I offer my deepest condolences to his family.” said Banerjee.
She also announced that a street and an upcoming stadium would be named after Dutta.
Later, followed by fans, both young and old, the cortege stopped for a while at the hallowed grounds of city football giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, which had got honours aplenty under his coaching.
Club officials of both powerhouses were present to bid their final adieu.
A few chanted Amal Dutta Amar Rahe’ (Long Live Amal Dutta) that broke the gloomy silence on an otherwise quiet afternoon.
At 2 p.m, Dutta’s mortal remains were brought to the Nimtala Crematorium.
A host of former footballers rued Dutta did not get the recognition he deserved and hailed him for his innovations on the pitch.
“We will forever remember him. He brought in so many youngsters to the game,” said former India footballer Chuni Goswami.
A midfielder during his playing days, Dutta represented India in the 1954 Asian Games at Manila.
Post his playing career, he went to England for a one-year FA coaching course, where he was taught by the renowned Walter Winterbottom.
In a country where most sportspersons then aimed at landing a government job for bringing stability in their lives, Dutta swam against the current and quit as a railway employee out of his love for soccer and to pursue a full-time professional coaching career.
He is hailed as the country’s first professional football coach, and credited for shaping the sport in India.
Dutta’s first assignment with a big club was in 1963 with East Bengal, and from the outset he showed great tactical planning, and a daring to opt for new systems.
On July 13, 1997, a record 1.31 lakh plus spectators gathered at the Salt Lake stadium here to witness a derby game between Amal Dutta-coached Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
It was the Federation Cup semi-final, and soccer aficionados’ expectations had sky-rocketed with Dutta introducing the Diamond system (4-1-2-1-2 formation) first time in Indian football. Though Mohun Bagan went down 1-4, the way they played throughout the tournament gave much joy to the fans.
“He was trying to demoralise us before the game. He called Bhaichung (Bhutia) ‘Chung Chung’ but that did not affect me. I did not give into his taunts,” remembered P.K. Banerjee, who was East Bengal’s gaffer then.
‘PK’ also fondly recollected his playing days with Dutta. “Amal da was my senior. We played together also. He even used to abuse me when I could not play well. But then we got along well off the pitch.”
“He liked music too. He used to play an instrument and we together used to have lovely adda sessions.”
“It’s like losing a very special person,” PK said.
Indian midfielder Mehtab Hossain said, “It’s a huge loss for Indian football. I played under him in Tollygunge. I saw how he used to make players, train them focusing on basics. I don’t think there will be anybody like him.”