'With PK in the team, you just knew anything could happen'

PK Banerjee scores for IFA against Tatabanya club of Hungary in 1964. Gautam Roy

To talk about my association with PK, I would have to go back more than 50 years. When we were playing domestic football, he used to play for Railways and I used to turn out for Tatas, and then for Maharashtra and Bombay in the Santosh Trophy. My relationship with him was cordial, and we always caught up and cracked jokes when drawn to play each other.

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I used to play right half, what you would call right midfield in modern football, in a 3-2-5 formation, so I didn't often have to face him, since he usually played down the right wing. He had a powerful right footer, and that was his plus point. He was also exceedingly quick, often clocking speeds like 11.3 or 11.4 kph effortlessly. He was very talented, but slightly timid. He did not like someone tackling him hard.

We were once playing one of the national tournaments, and we had a left halfback whom Maharashtra had taken from Services. He had made his mind up to stop PK at any cost. He would jump on him, or tackle him hard and play foul. I used to be the Maharashtra captain, and he came up to me and said, "Franco, from where you got this guy?" PK switched from right to left, and without telling anybody, this guy also switched from left to right.

When we headed to the 1962 Asian Games, we had three truly great footballers -- PK on the right, Chuni Goswami on inside-left and Tulsidas Balaram on outside-left. People talk about Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and all, comparing any of them with those three is like chalk and cheese. I am not undermining the achievements of the newer players, but they can't come close to those three. We just knew anything could happen with these three -- we just knew they would always score.

During the Games, PK was not playing as per his form to begin with. We were playing a must-win game against Japan to qualify for the knockouts, and at half time, we would just go into the change room to refresh ourselves, have some water. PK was making some noise as if he was about to vomit, and Rahim saab [coach SA Rahim] walked up to him and asked him what was wrong. When PK told him he wasn't feeling too well, Rahim said, "Why didn't you tell me this before? I have 18 players in my team, and any 11 can play."

It was just the firing that PK needed, because he came back on after resumption and scored inside the next 10 minutes. After some time, we got a second goal, won 2-0 and went on to win the gold medal.

I just met him in February, since about 10-12 shoots have been planned for a Rahim biopic being produced by Boney Kapoor. He was on a wheelchair, and I said something to him, but he could hardly speak. Such a great man, and I will always have very fond memories of my friendship with him.

(As told to Debayan Sen)

Franco Fortunato played 25 times for India and was a member of the 1962 Asian Games gold medal winning team.