Spreading the beautiful game across different states is one of the key objectives in Vision 2047, and the Federation has begun that process by taking the Hero Santosh Trophy to newer heights. The Hero Santosh Trophy is now on a revival path, with the tournament's semi-finals and final set to be hosted abroad for the first time – in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. the-aiff.com will be following the progress of the four semi-finalists and other events around the Hero Santosh Trophy closely in a series of stories.
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Balai Dey is a legend in Indian Football in his own right. At 76, Dey, who lives in the suburbs of Kolkata, is the only living player to have represented both India and Pakistan in international football.
Born in Khulna (now Bangladesh), Dey grew up in Dhaka and began his football career in the early 1960s. He played for several clubs in Dhaka, including the famous Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting and so impressive was his performance that by the age of 18 he became one of Pakistan's top goalkeepers and was picked up to represent the Senior National team. However, by 1965, Dey and his family decided to migrate to India. In the next three years, Dey became a star in Indian football by his fine showings for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and was selected to play for India.
Despite so many achievements on the pitch, that too for two different National Teams, Dey has a special place in his heart for one tournament, that is the Hero Santosh Trophy. He considers this is still Indian football’s best platform to showcase the talented youngsters and pave the way for them to play at the highest level.
What Dey feels is not without reasons. He actually talks from his own experience. In the 1969 Santosh Trophy in Assam, Dey was Bengal’s first choice goalkeeper. He did such a splendid job under the bar that the National selectors didn’t even wait for him to return to Kolkata. He was straight away called to the National camp in Mumbai and was inducted into the team for the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia and picked up the moniker "Indian Rock" during the tournament. He participated in the Iran Friendship Tournament in 1970.
"Santosh Trophy is a huge tournament and playing in such a tournament will only help our players grow. Players who perform well here will always have the opportunity to be recruited by ISL and I-League clubs and even may be called up for the national team," Dey said during a conversation with the-aiff.com from his home.
"When I heard that the Santosh Trophy semi-finals and final will be played in Saudi Arabia, I personally was very excited and happy for the boys. It is surely a step forward in the development process. Like we still talk about Chuni Goswami and so many footballers of our time, I am sure one day people will talk about these players also.
"Taking the game to Riyadh has a huge advantage. People can watch, read and know more about this tournament. Getting international exposure is so much needed in the current structure. The teams, the players who did not qualify will watch these games and will try to perform better, as they will know that in the future they will get the opportunity to go out and play on a foreign soil. It’s a very different feeling," the Mohun Bagan Lifetime Achievement winner said.
The former India goalkeeper strongly believes that Indian boys have the passion to give their everything on the pitch. "You never know who is watching you and the next day you might be offered contracts by big clubs across the country. I remember when we used to play Santosh Trophy, there was no television and people used to gather in the stands to watch us daily. It was a really massive thing to play for the Santosh Trophy those days," Dey remembers.