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Sir Bobby Charlton pats East Bengal

August 06, 2007 13:55 IST

Finishing 18th in a 20-team event does not provide them a chest-thumping opportunity but East Bengal's under-15 team returned from the Nike Manchester United Premier Cup (MUPC) not without a word of praise from English legend Sir Bobby Charlton.

The Kolkata outfit snapped its string of four defeats in the MUPC with their lone win against Bukit Jalil Sports School, Malaysia and then went down in penalty shootout to Austrian Wien to finish 18th, ahead of Assumption College Thonburi which had topped the South East Asia region finals.

Buttonholed for his view on East Bengal, Charlton pointed out that East Bengal had done better than Mohun Bagan's last place finish in 2006 and patted the boys for their grit.

"This time, this team from India did little better than the team we saw last year. I know short stature and frail physique are major handicaps for them but it was still good to see them come and compete at this level and do actually better," the English legend said.

In the MUPC closing ceremony at University of Manchester's Armitage Centre too, Charlton surprised the gathering when he singled out East Bengal for special praise.

"I saw a few matches, including one featuring this Indian side which has come all the way from West Bengal. They had certain handicaps but what struck me was their stomach for fight, which was astounding. It was really impressive to see how eager they were for a fight," Charlton said.

One of the survivors of the 1958 Munich air disaster, Charlton himself personified guts and gumption in his playing days.

It was a miraculous escape in Munich for the former England captain, who after two aborted take offs, swapped his place with nervous teammate Tommy Taylor, a fatal decision for Taylor, as the plane hit the fence at the end of the runway and caught fire.

It was Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg who dragged out Charlton by the waistband of his trousers to safety and the attacking midfielder put the trauma behind and went on to win the 1966 World Cup.

Charlton's words came as music to East Bengal coach Swarup Das' ears and the former Indian international said he did not expect the legend to take note of his wards.

"Frankly speaking, it was a pleasant surprise. We never knew he watched our match. I think this is perhaps the greatest achievement of the side.

"Admitted that finishing 18th is not something you can brag about but here you have a living legend, part of England's lone World Cup winning team, having a word of praise for the boys is something we will cherish for long," said a delighted Das.

In his speech, Charlton advised the youngsters to go back and practise hard to master whatever they learnt during the premier under-15 tournaments.

"You learnt different defensive and attacking strategies, different drills. Now go home and practise them. No player ever reached the top without practising hard. Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, they all became great because they practised.

"I'll be very satisfied if I see some of the players who are present here making it big some day," said Charlton, now a key member of Manchester United's board of directors.

Amlan Chakraborty
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