Dilip Kumar, a legend with passion for Indian football and its stars

Football - Dilip Kumar
Dilip Kumar (left) being introduced to footballers of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, the two Indian heavyweight clubs, during a Chief Guest ritual at the erstwhile Rovers Cup tournament in Mumbai. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: The news of thespian Dilip Kumar’s death on Wednesday left India in mourning – and some of the stalwarts of Indian football were not immune to it. His passion for the beautiful game was quite well known as he was a regular sight at the Cooperage Stadium in Mumbai during the Rovers Cup – a top notch tournament which has now been discontinued.

Yusuf Khan, as he was originally known, was also a patron of Mohammedan Sporting Club, then one of the three superpowers of the country’s football from Kolkata – alongwith Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Subrata Bhattacharya, a former international defender and celebrated coach who was also a part of the Indian side that played in the 1984 AFC Asian Cup, fondly recalled his chance meetings with the doyen of Indian cinema. “Dilip saab was extremely passionate about football. On the field, when he’d come to a game as a chief guest, you don’t get to talk much. But I had met him a few times off the field as well and he used to love to discuss the game with us,” Bhattacharya recalled in a chat with AIFF.com.

“I remember he used to be a frequent visitor in the Rovers Cup games. He had also come to the Santosh Trophy Final in Kashmir (1978-79).”

Off the pitch, Bhattacharya had met Dilip Kumar a few times in different studio sets and the former defender recalled about the filmstar’s humility. “I went to meet him a few times when I was in Bombay (not Mumbai then), at the Himalaya and the Nataraj Studios. The first time I went there, he came over to me and said in an affectionate manner ‘Aise khada kyun hain? (Why are you standing there).’He took me to the director and introduced me: ‘Bada player hai, India ke liye khelta hai. Isse baithne do. (He’s a big player, plays for India. Let’s find him a place to sit)’.”

“He truly was one of those people who was pure at heart. There was no malice in the man. This is a huge loss for India,” Bhattacharya said.

Subhash Bhowmick, a member of India’s bronze medallist squad in the 1970 Asian Games, had himself been an avid fan of Dilip Kumar films himself – Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961) were two of many Dilip Kumar films that had captivated Bhowmick.

“It was an honour to see such a great superstar come to watch our matches. Not only the club matches, but he was also an avid follower of the national team,” he recalled. “This is a huge loss for the world of art and culture. He was one of the first true superheroes of Indian cinema,” said Bhowmick.

Prasanta Banerjee, another former India captain, recalled Dilip Kumar as someone who loved the game “with all his heart”.

“I had first met him in the Rovers Cup when he was the chief guest in the 1980 final (East Bengal versus Mohammedan Sporting). Later, when I was playing for Mohammedan Sporting, he had visited the club a few times as well and we had several chats,” Banerjee reminisced. “When I got to chat with him, I understood his love for football. He knew me by my name. For me that was a big honour – he was such a legend.”