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Tuesday, Sep 24, 2019

Swapan Ball, East Bengal’s long-serving football official, dies

For Swapan Ball, East Bengal was family and the club home. Ball represented East Bengal at meetings pertaining to the National League and the I-League football competitions

football Updated: Jul 28, 2017 17:57 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Swapan Ball was a well-known football administrator and served East Bengal club for several decades
Swapan Ball was a well-known football administrator and served East Bengal club for several decades(Twitter-East Bengal)

There are many stories about Swapan Ball’s almost visceral disgust for the colours green and maroon. My favourite one, recounted by the man himself, was about how he preferred standing at an airport departure lounge for hours while everyone around sat and waited out the delay in a flight to Kolkata.

“How could I sit in chairs that had green covers,” Ball had said. To anyone who knew him even casually it would have made perfect sense. For Ball, anything, however symbolic, that represented Mohun Bagan was anathema.

Swapan Ball died here in the early hours of Friday after fighting cancer. He was 71 and is survived by wife, two daughters and their families.

He lived and breathed East Bengal

For most of his adolescent and adult life, Ball lived and breathed East Bengal. He was a footballer of some standing playing as goalkeeper for East Bengal’s development teams in what was known as the Power League in the 1950s and 60s but to the world of football in India, Swapan Ball was, for over three decades, an East Bengal official for whom the club was family.

Till health took a toll on his travels, Swapan Ball represented East Bengal at meetings pertaining to the National League and the I-League. He was also the team’s manager who always knew how to cut the best deals at hotels.

Coaches, players, physios and other support staff came and went but Ball remained on the team bench exhorting players, giving them a pre-match pep talk and always willing to take on the world if he felt it had gone against East Bengal. It didn’t always keep him on the right side of the establishment but Ball cared a fig for all that.

Ball, a talent scout

When East Bengal heard about prospective players who could be signed from Ghana, Ball went there alone to scout. He spent months there watching them --- this being in the 1990s players’ agents were unheard of in India and the internet was in its infancy.

So, a trip to Ghana almost seemed a visit to the unknown. Yet Swapan Ball went because his club had asked him to. And returned with Suley Musah, Eammnuel Opoku and Jackson Egyopong, players who served East Bengal with distinction.

Again, in the time before agents took over footballers’ interest in India, Ball would scour the domestic circuit and negotiate with outstation players. While the interests of East Bengal ‎would always be uppermost in his mind and heart, the players too realised how deep Ball’s commitment to football was.

Media’s delight

Ball was a regular presence at the East Bengal tent where he would be immersed in administrative duties. Till recently, he was the first man in every morning, way before players turned up to train. And ‎he had a way with statistics. Before journalists could Google their way out of trouble, Ball was their go-to man for information.

Ball was also deeply invested in cricket and would always take time out to see East Bengal play in the local league.‎ He loved the quintessentially Bengali “adda”, usually with sundowners or three, which he would often enrich with baritone rendition of Bangla songs of yore.

With his passing, a part of East Bengal and the Kolkata Maidan has been immortalised. As long as East Bengal exist, the memory of Ball chewing on a cigarette as he holds forth will remain alive and vibrant.

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 15:04 IST