Twentytwo years back, an August afternoon changed Sankarlal Chakaraborty’s life.
Sankarlal, then a promising young midfielder of East Bengal, was eager to prove a point in the CFL Derby. Mohun Bagan’s Chima Okorie had dribbled past Naushad Moosa and was about to take a shot at the goal, when Sankarlal came to East Bengal’s rescue with a sliding tackle.
But the Nigerian’s right foot collided with Sankarlal’s right shin. Initially, he did not realise what hit him. “For the first three-four seconds, I didn’t realise what happened. But soon, I was in terrible pain and unable to move my leg. I was stretchered out, the shin bone was broken,” Sankarlal, now coach of Bhowanipore Club, recalled during an interaction with The Telegraph on Thursday.
The build-up to that Derby, as usual, was intense. The July 13, 1997 Federation Cup clash weighed heavily on the minds of the players, coaches (Amal Dutta and PK Banerjee), the fans and the officials. East Bengal, read one Bhaichung Bhutia, ran roughshod over Dutta’s ‘Diamond’ Bagan to emerge 4-1 winners.
East Bengal wanted a encore on August 2, Bagan sought revenge. The young Sankarlal, a TFA Blue and in his second year in the Maidan cauldron, was quite obviously excited. But then the horrific injury happened.
“It took me almost a year to recover. I did regain my place in East Bengal’s playing XI, but I never felt as comfortable as I used to. I tried hard, though, to go full stretch,” he said.
Manoranjan Bhattacharya was East Bengal’s coach after Sankarlal’s comeback and he inspired the latter a lot. Unfortunately, another incident made the situation worse for the youngster.
“In the match between ITI and East Bengal (at the National Football League), I picked up an injury on the jinxed shin bone. After a tussle with an ITI player, I realised it was worse,” Sankarlal said.
However, Sankarlal didn’t give up, making another attempt for a comeback in the 1999-2000. And on that occasion, Subhas Bhowmick was there to help him out.
Bhowmick asked him to play as a right-back. But Sankarlal struggled to perform. “I felt I wasn’t getting that required strength… I was disappointed... I tried till early 2002, but by that time, it was all over,” Sankarlal lamented.
After retirement, Sankarlal stopped watching the game he loved so much. His wife, Poulami, inspired him to undergo a coaching licence course. Sankarlal first got the ‘C’ licence in 2007, before he gradually obtained the ‘B’ and the ‘A’.
What Sankarlal couldn’t achieve as a footballer, he did as a coach.
He was the assistant coach to Sanjoy Sen when Bagan won their maiden I-League title in 2014-2015. Sankarlal was the head coach when Bagan won the CFL in 2018 breaking the East Bengal hegemony.
“Yes, I did have regrets as a player. I’ve achieved something as coach, but I still have a long way to go,” he signed off.