1982 & 1984: Those Were The Best Years of Nehru Cup

Wednesday, 15 August 2012|Mohammad Amin-ul Islam
The Calcutta League was still big then. But the Nehru Cup was something refreshing and much to the expectation became a run-away hit.

I remember watching the opening ceremony of the first Nehru Cup in Calcutta. I dropped my school bag and sat in front of the TV. I couldn’t have missed any football action. Then, I was told that it was the first major international football event the country was hosting for the first time. Before the inaugural, former Prime Minister, late Mrs Indira Gandhi signed on the ball for the event which was known as the Jawaharlal Nehru Invitational International Football Tournament.

Quite a big title. But it matched with the ‘big’ teams in the 1982 edition.

The Calcutta League was still big then. East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting had top players. But the Nehru Cup was something refreshing. It was like taking a short break from the mundane daily routine to the cool climes of a hill station.

Nobody had imagined that Nehru Cup would be a runaway hit in its very first year. The pace, the style and the approach of Uruguay, China and Poland left an indelible impression. Who wouldn’t want to watch someone like Enzo Francescoli? Though the loyalty for Bagan or East Bengal was still there, Calcuttans switched their allegiance when it came to Nehru Cup.

Probably, that was the only time when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) brought some quality international teams which had great players. As the years wore on, particularly in the early 90s, AIFF even lost both passion and motivation to run its only international tournament.

Two years later, Nehru Cup unveiled a host of great, talented stars and a coach who would later win a World Cup in 1986 with that maverick Argentine squad. People still recall the 1984 event, which was held at the Eden Gardens, when Carlos Bilardo was expelled from the bench by the referee following a heated argument.

In terms of quality teams and football, I would put the 1984 edition as the best ever. After all, who wouldn't have been mesmerised by Laszlo Kiss (Hungary), Jorge Burruchaga (Argentina), Nery Pumpido (Argentina), Euzebiusz Smolarek (Poland)?

It was during this time, Bilardo came with his future World Cup squad as he was in the process of fine-tuning it for the Mexico World Cup. Though, Argentina didn’t win the Nehru Cup, it won the hearts. It was great to watch Buruchaga who would become a household name after scoring the winning goal against West Germany in 1986 World Cup final. In later years, Russian greats Rinat Dasayev and Alexei Mikhailichenko also added glamour and quality to the event.

Earlier, it was an annual affair till 1989. Then, it became a biennial event. And after 1997, when India finished third, the Nehru Cup went off the radar completely.

The tournament almost got scrapped before former India coach Bob Houghton took the initiative to revive it again with the help of the federation in 2007 at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium. The venue has been lucky for the hosts as India won their maiden title and successfully defended it two years later against Syria.

This year’s event, which will be held at Nehru Stadium in Delhi, will see Cameroon (59) as the only top-ranked sides in the five-team event. The other contesting nations rank well outside the top 100 including India who are the lowest ranked (168) besides Syria (147), Maldives (161) and Nepal (162).

In the past, the AIFF had cited paucity of funds and other reasons to ignore good teams for the event which definitely won’t rank among the best of the 14 editions held so far.