The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Show by ‘old club’ delights Kapil

Calcutta: Eleven years ago, cricket icon Kapil Dev’s desire to “generate interest” in soccer saw him actually wear the gold-and-red jersey. Today, he is “delighted” at East Bengal’s fantastic run in the ASEAN Club Championship.

“Though I’ve watched my old club’s progress in bits and pieces only, I’m delighted at where the team has reached. Indeed, if I can, I’ll watch Saturday’s live telecast of the final (against Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana),” Kapil told The Telegraph on Friday, when contacted on his cellphone.

Laughing, he added: “Frankly, I wasn’t aware that the present East Bengal side is so good and, surely, the country has been done proud… I’ve been following (Bhaichung) Bhutia’s career with some interest but, obviously, the club has other gifted players too.”

Kapil, it may be recalled, signed for East Bengal on June 22, 1992, and made his debut six days later — as a substitute striker — in an exhibition match versus Mohun Bagan. Proceeds from that game went to a Bangalore charity.

“The turnout (at the Salt Lake Stadium) was huge, about 60-70,000, and I was pumped up… It was, after all, an unusual experience. Sadly, owing to rain, the match had to be abandoned (goalless) midway into the second-half,” he recalled.

The East Bengal XI included Bhaskar Ganguly, Tarun Dey, Christopher Kem and (captain) Kuljit Singh. Kapil, in fact, had replaced Kuljit and was on the turf for 27 minutes.

Incidentally, state sports minister Subhas Chakraborty and the late Dipak ‘Paltu’ Das, a top East Bengal mandarin, were instrumental in getting the (1983) World Cup-winning captain to wear soccer boots for the first time since his schooldays in Chandigarh.

“Till cricket became the driving force, I was quite obsessed with soccer. I began as a full-back, moved to the goalie’s position and, then, was promoted as a forward… As you can make out, I was an allrounder in soccer as well,” Kapil quipped.

[In more recent times, of course, golf has become his priority-sport.]

Despite being a passionate Brazil fan, Kapil’s all-time favourite remains Argentina’s (1986) World Cup-winning captain Diego Maradona: “At different times, somebody or the other stands out — for instance, nowadays, Ronaldo is hot property — but, for me, Maradona is the greatest.”

Asked whether he had a formula for the improvement of Indian soccer, Kapil laughed yet again — “Am I supposed to have such formulae' It’s best that the pundits answer that… However, I do feel that self-belief makes the difference… If you believe you can do it, you will.”

Having beaten the odds to make the title-round, East Bengal shouldn’t be short on self-belief. If not anybody else, energy-oozing coach Subhas Bhowmick will ensure that.

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