Fred Pugsley: East Bengal’s first foreign player

SCEB Legends Collection


Kolkata, April 24: Who was the first foreign player to don the hallowed red and gold colours?


A certain Fred Pugsley of Anglo-Burmese descent walked hundreds of kilometres from his home in Burma (now Myanmar) to Calcutta (now Kolkata), only to be turned down initially by the East Bengal mandarins.




The rest, as they say, is history.


When Japan invaded erstwhile Burma during the Second World War in 1942, Pugsley, along with thousands of refugees, fled their country and left for India on foot braving countless obstacles hurled at them by harsh weather conditions.


Holding the hands of his wife and daughter, Pugsley reached Calcutta heavily under the weather as a result of the inhuman exhaustion due to travelling.


Pugsley only knew a few officials at East Bengal as the red and gold brigade had toured Burma in 1937 to play a few exhibition matches.


A frail-looking Pugsley requested East Bengal club officials to try him out to which the officials were initially hesitant. A foreign player had never played for East Bengal before and Pugsley was not in the pink of his health by any stretch of the imagination.


They reluctantly fielded him in three matches and when Pugsley started vomiting midway through the third, he was withdrawn promptly for the season.


But it was the start of something remarkable as the Burmese striker recovered soon and went down in the history as one of East Bengal’s greatest forwards.


Pugsley stayed at East Bengal from 1942 till 1948 during which the club had a golden run winning five trophies - Calcutta Football League (CFL) thrice and the IFA Shield twice.


It was during his tenure that East Bengal bagged their maiden CFL title. (1942), IFA Shield (1943) and the maiden double CFL/IFA Shield in 1945.


Pugsley was an aggressive centre forward, lethal with his left foot, especially inside the 18-yard box.


He had pace and dominated the 2-3-5 formation with a canny knack for scoring goals.


His shooting and opportunism including heading were exceptional. Pugsley holds the record for scoring eight goals by an individual in a match in which East Bengal won 11-0 thrashing BCIL Railway (also their highest victory margin) in the first round of Rovers Cup at the Cooperage in Bombay (now Mumbai).


He was also primarily responsible for winning the 'double' for East Bengal when he scored the only goal in the club's 1-0 win over Mohun Bagan in the 1945 IFA Shield final.


Overall he scored 48 goals for East Bengal.


While representing Bengal in the Santosh Trophy (foreign players could play in state teams back in those days), he netted seven goals in a 7-0 rout of Rajputana.


Pugsley eventually decided to return to his home country after the war.


In this edition of 'SCEB Legends Collection', we celebrate Fred Pugsley - one of East Bengal's finest strikers ever.