By A Special Correspondent

CHANDIGARH, India: Football fields in the country have been hit by a drought of strikes. Be it Bengal, brawny Punjab, crafty Keralites or systematic Goans, the ranks are devoid of goal getters. All ‘eyes are focused on just two strikers —— Sisir Ghosh of Bengal and sturdy Kuljit Singh of Punjab. But neither could serve with any distinction in the recent internationals, both at home and abroad.

Two goals were scored during the whole of the Nehru International Gold Cup Football Tournament at Siliguri, The first came following a penalty kick converted by skipper Sudip Chatterji and the other by midfielder Vijay Kumar.

In the Asia Cup, it was a complete famine of goals, there being no goals even against teams like Bangladesh and Thailand, and hence a victory was out of question.

Will the forthcoming Santosh Trophy at Quilon unearth a talented marksman? One can only long for it. The situation is quite in contrast to the ‘one not long ago when we had Inder Singh, Magan Singh, Habib and a few just a shade less gifted.

You just cannot contemplate a forward coming anywhere near Inder. Some 14 years at the Guru Gobind ‘Singh Stadium in Jullundur, the inimitable Inder had fired in 23 goals in a single national championship. The feat stays untouched. The seven goals he scored then against Gujarat also remains untouched.

The gates of the Guru Gobind Singh Stadium were thrown open to the fans to flock in and watch Punjab cause a sensation; thrash Bengal by six-nil to the delight and amazement of all.

For the second time in four years Punjab were crowned soccer kings, Inder lifting the glittering trophy amidst great excitement. The wide margin of triumph over the best known team was indeed the shock of the shocks. Bengal had never been beaten by such a margin. Till to the date it still is the tallest victory in the finals of the Santosh Trophy.

The scribes too were carried away and one of them lavished the Punjab captain with remarks; “Inder Singh who had scored the opening goal of the tournament, also netted the last to round off with one of the greatest performances in the history of the Santosh Trophy. His 23 goals and two hat tricks will take a long time to be emulated, nor will Bengal forget the heavy pounding they were subjected to.

Indeed Inder’s feat is akin to the glorious strides Milkha Singh had exhibited year ago and which still decorates the record books,

Who can forget the splendid manner in which Inder Singh struck the ‘opening goal in the final? As Sukhwinder Singh floated a freed kick from midfield, Inder positioned himself at the edge of the box, allowed the ball to pass over him, and then bent forward and heeled it into the net.

The entire Bengal defense was: perplexed. It got panicky as the Punjab forwards charged again and even skip per Ashok Banerjee lapsed and deflected the ball into his own net. The two blows irritated him to such an extent that he hit Manjit Singh on the face, leading to a penalty kick and Bengal tailed 03 at half time.

Bengal was thereafter a completely demoralized and dispirited lot and retired crestfallen. If Bengal’s image was tarnished, that of Punjab raised sky high. For full two months they had started their campaign, undergoing intensive training from Jarnail Singh ‘the star defender himself had jumped into the fray in early stages of the competition but opted out when the contests grow sharper. Jamail was playing against opponents almost half his age. Inder too was 32 then but still was: retaining his brilliance as a scorer.

Bengal had Surajit Sengupta to match Inder. The wily left winger played with verve and flair. With his hair flowing, Sengupta often weaved his way through, charming Punjab fans who nicknamed him “Bobby”.

In that 1974 eventful national, if Punjab raced to a 170 victory over Gujarat, Bengal emerged one better as they struck 18 times against Tripura who had travelled three days to be in Jullundur, Of course, Habib was not there in the Bengal ranks as he was left out for not having reported at the camp, But this brother Akbar was no less efficient marksman and had made the national grade. Punjab did win the national championship again and had Harjinder and Darshan Singh Goga but the same old fluency was diminishing,

But the State from the north certainly wrote another glorious chapter two years ago at Jabalpur. It was in the matter of spirit and fighting qualities. Goalkeeper Daljit, stopper Parmer and fielder Parminder were all injured. Even with that depleted strength they matched their rivals to extra time and then tie breaker before recording a tiumph. Yes, Amarjit Bhatia’s team rose above all expectations on that ‘occasion,

Dhanwant was the striker Punjab had paraded but despite all the advantages of long legs and height he himself did not keep the promise. He had go give way to Kuljit Singh as the match winning forward.

The newcomer has been a hit lucky to don the national colors without gaining maturity. But he is Punjab’s new find and in the coming national at Quilon a lot will depend on him to enhance the image of Punjab which had suffered in the last championship when the holders failed to score and win and bowed out without making the last four grades.

Article extracted from this publication >> April 8, 1988