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Serving East Bengal, with no strings attached

Siliguri: Football is earthy: a bit of the head, much more, though, of the body. And feelings aren’t always justifiable. It’s a matter of passion, crawling on all fours, along the ground and in between the smell of the grass and earth. Here we often find people in whom personality traits develop into the form and shape of the game. We remember, in the Calcutta Maidan, people like Dipak (Paltu) Das, Jiban Chakraborty (in East Bengal) and like Sadhin Mallick (in Mohun Bagan) and now Swapan Bal in East Bengal.

It could be an interesting psychoanalytical study: why do some people become attached to certain abstract images' He isn’t a player (“I have played for the junior East Bengal team”), isn’t an official of any standing (“it’s unimportant”), and though with a technical diploma and from an early business family, isn’t really earning his living from his education or from the club. That’s a big ‘why'’ against Swapan Bal.

Inferences are as airy as goodwill or as concrete as religion. Probably a bit of both.

He comes across as rabid a football fan as any in the stands. As a bristling youth, an encounter with the law in a football queue the late Sixties gave him a sprained arm. And, because his parents were into the soccer scenario (uncles were the renowned Mana Dutta and K. Dutta), he got that Rs 215 for an East Bengal membership. “That started it all.”

It doesn’t explain... East Bengal have thousands of members. “But it was my dream to be in and around East Bengal, to be part of this, what should I say, temple,” he argues. You see, slowly, how Bal has sorted his mind out over the years.

Is it a craving for security, mainfest in the love for a sport, a club, its flag, its successes' Bal remembers his associations: junior team secretary, 1975; back in power with a Supreme Court order (1984), “missed even my mother’s death (November 8, 1996) when I was in Nairobi to sign up Samuel Omollo”, “happiest when we beat Mohun Bagan by five goals, 1975 IFA Shield…”

It isn’t a job... a passion, bordering on obsession, more likely. That’s how you understand Bal’s statement: “I feel I have no existence without the club.”

Bal’s body language from the sidelines is unique, his choice of vocabulary, his somewhat ostentatious nature... What does he want' “I think I have got whatever I ever wanted from my association with this club,” says Bal, father of two daughters. “It remains a pleasure when I am able to sign up a player (also instrumental in bringing to the club one Suley Musah), a satisfaction when the team is performing well, such publicity through the media around the country.”

He sums up the philosophy of life best when he says: “I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about what I have done and what I am doing.”

Call that an ambition plateau, be cynical about it all, initiate an intellectiual challenge search, or simply call it his religion. It’s nirvana for Bal, East Bengal’s player recruiter.

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