Tulsidas Balaram, widely regarded as one of India’s greatest-ever footballers, passed away on 16 February 2023. At 86 years old, the Secunderabad-born player was known for his iconic role in the Indian national football team of the 1950s and early 1960s. His career initially began with bicycle rides from his hometown to Hyderabad to try and get a spot at the team meant for Santosh Trophy tournament. At 18, he managed to make an impact that set him apart from others, helping Hyderbad win the trophy in 1956-57 – an event which exponentially further improved his reputation. For his heroics, Balaram earned Arjuna Award in 1962 and credited with etching his name in India’s footballing history forever. It remains uncertain whether India will be able to replicate the glory obtained by Balaram during his lifetime.
Balaram, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest attacking players of his era, was renowned for his incredible breadth of skills across the forward line. From commanding the attack as a left-winger or center-forward to delivering precise, long-reaching passes, Balaram had it all. In addition to exceptional ball control and distribution, what perhaps set him apart and garnered the wide respect of football lovers everywhere was his goal scoring prowess – he scored a commendable 10 goals in 36 appearances for India and many more at club level. With his speed and unpredictability – Balaram truly captured attention when he was in possession.
Tulsidas Balaram was truly a force to behold on the football pitch. His quickness, precision dribbling and ability to adapt his forward strategies left opponents reeling. Arun Ghosh, who faced Balaram in his days as captain of the India defense, noted that he had “two eyes on the back of his head” — an incredible feat which allowed him to pick out any play before it happened. As testament to his skill, renowned football historian Gautam Roy claims that Balaram was an excellent example of “total football”, suggesting the pace and agility he showed would be perfectly suited to competitive matches in the modern game. Given that he is widely recognized as one of the best football players in Asia during his time, one can imagine how feared he must have been in action!
In an era where India was pitted against some of the greatest football teams in the world, Balaram emerged as a shining light for the Blue Tigers. During the 1960 Summer Olympics, his performances against France and Hungary earned him many praises. Even though India lost 2-1 to Hungary, Balaram had scriptered a goal in there too. Against France, he scored India’s only goal of the match. With that, he finished with two of India’s three goals during their Olympic campaign. His heroics will be remembered by fans for a long time and is something which modern footballers can only hope to achieve on such a grand stage as Balaram did.
India’s renowned forward, Balaram, had a great impact on the 1958 and 1962 editions of the Asian Games. He was instrumental in India’s 5-2 win over Hong Kong, scoring and providing two assists. In the 1958 Merdeka Tournament, he also scored a goal and helped India finish as runners-up. His best performances were still yet to come however in 1962 when he scored against Thailand and Japan in the group stages before helping India bag the gold medal. Balaram tormented opposition defenders with his individual brilliance and was an undisputed presence for Team India throughout the tournament. Even though Balaram personally considered this performance to be his best one for India, it wasn’t long after that he went on to have an even more successful career for club as well as country.
Tulsidas Balaram was a renowned footballer at the club level, especially in his time with the Hyderabad City Police club of the 1950s and East Bengal. There were expectations that surrounded the forward which he met admirablesy and eventually surpassed. He is now seen as one of the best footballers in East Bengal’s history, making him almost like a king to this revered Indian club. Novy Kapadia once commented that as a token of gratitude for Balaram’s performance, fans would even accompany him during national camps and do his laundry and run errands for him. It is just another testament of how beloved Tulsidas Balaram was because of what he achieved during his careert at East Bengal.
Chuni Balaram was already creating ripples in the football world when he joined East Bengal during the 1959 Calcutta Football League (CFL) season. But his best contribution to the club was his extraordinary performance as their captain in 1961. During that year’s CFL, he scored 23 goals, earning him the title of second-highest scorer and also the award for best player of the league. His incredible feat of guiding East Bengal to become double winners over Mohun Bagan secured Balaram a permanent place in their history books. He later retired from professional football after helping Bengal Nagpur Railway win the IFA Shield in 1963 and Rovers Cup in 1964.