Updated: May 1
SCEB Legends Collection
Kolkata, April 19: Tulsidas Balaram would have taken social media by storm had the platforms been around when he was at his best, peeling off defenders with an ease rarely seen in Indian football.
Balaram was, without a doubt, one of the country's finest strikers. An East Bengal idol, Balaram donned the national colours from 1956 to 1962 which is often described as the golden period of Indian football.
In seven years, Balaram played two Olympics, two Asian Games and two Merdeka tournaments.
Balaram was part of the Indian team which finished fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, besides possessing a runners-up medal in 1959 Merdeka and the gold medal in 1962 Asiad.
Playing through the inside left channel, Balaram was considered nippy inside the 18-yard box, with even the famed Hungarian defence failing to stop him in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
"The European media and football experts hailed him as the best forward in Asia after his sterling performance against Hungary, which comprised all their World Cup stars in the 1960 Rome Olympics," noted historian Gautam Roy told the club's official website.
His ball control, distribution, scoring prowess, and ability to rise above the din in difficult situations made him a part of Indian football folklore.
Along with Chuni Goswami and PK Banerjee, Balaram formed the deadliest trio of strikers in Indian football history.
Balaram put pen to paper for East Bengal in 1957, switching allegiance from his first major club, City College Old Boys in Hyderabad. In the next five seasons, Balaram was the darling of East Bengal supporters, one of the biggest stars in Indian football. He thrilled the fans with his sublime skills and quickly became their hero.
The 1961 season with East Bengal was a watershed one for Balaram. As the captain of the side, Balaram helped the club win the Double of Calcutta Football League and IFA Shield (joint). It was in the same year that he had two outstanding outings against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the Calcutta League.
In the first clash on June 22, he scored the all-important goal, dribbling past Jarnail Singh for the club's 1-0 victory. The second leg clash on July 27, however, saw him score a true gem of a goal, spearheading East Bengal to triumph in the League. He collected a pass from Ram Bahadur in midfield, and after playing a quick one-two with Balu, he surged towards the Mohun Bagan box. He was almost hacked down by Jarnail Singh, but he managed to shoot goalwards, falling in the process.
Sanath Sett, the rival custodian, dived to intercept, but he could only manage to parry the shot. The ball rolled, untenanted, into no man's land. Balaram was up in a flash and coolly placed it in the back of the net, beyond the reach of Sett.
A fitting winner, which propelled East Bengal to win the League title after a gap of nine years.
He also won IFA Shield (1958), Durand Cup (1960-Joint), Rovers Cup (1962-Joint) and DCM Trophy (1957 and 1960). Overall, he scored 104 goals for East Bengal and won the Golden Boot in the Calcutta League with 23 goals in 1961.
In the same year, he was voted the Footballer of the Year by the Veterans Club. In the 1959 calendar year, he was the highest scorer for the club with 39 goals to his name.
In 1963, he joined Indian Railways. The same year, the curtain came abruptly down on his roaring career as he faced health issues.
"His style was akin to France legend Thierry Henry. It was sad that his career was interrupted on medical grounds and so far he has been denied his rightful award, the Padma Shree Award, for some unknown reasons. As a coach, he also propelled the Kolkata Mayor's team to win many laurels in Europe," Roy said.
Balaram, a veritable team-man, could play in any position, dropping back to win the ball and relay it to the two men upfront besides having silken skills inside the left channel in the final third.
Therefore, Balaram is our third great in the 'SCEB Legends Collection', as we try and train the spotlight on someone who deserved much more attention.