The Hungarians were the first to give shape to the modern age in football. The Magical Magyars were a truly special team, the prototype for Total Football. They dominated most of the 1950s and leading upto the 1954 World Cup final, had not lost a game in four years. A record, it would stand for four decades.
Brazil adopted the Magyars’ 4-2-4 system and won the 1958 World Cup. Rinus Michels would employ similar principles and bring about a revolution in Dutch football in the 1970s. If Gusztav Sebes’ side had won that 1954 final, which they led 2-0 after eight minutes, maybe they would be more universally popular, but many footballing historians consider that team to be the best ever in history.
They were not quite as good by the time the 1960s came along, with the Cold War taking a toll on the country, but they won bronze at the 1960 Rome Olympics, reached the quarter finals of yet another World Cup in 1962 and took bronze at the 1964 European Championships. In other words, they were still pretty darn good.
In the 1960 Olympics, Hungary were placed in the same group as India, Peru and France. Peru were dispatched 6-2 and France were demolished 7-0. It was India that troubled them. Florian Albert, who would be top scorer at the 1962 World Cup, got a goal but Jarnail Singh had him on a leash otherwise. The standout player for India however, was Tulsidas Balaraman. Trailing 0-2, he scored from a deft flick to halve the deficit and chasing an equaliser, he had the Hungarian defence scrambling for cover. They resorted to shirt pulls and body checks to stop him and while they managed to hold on for a 2-1 win, it was possibly the best performance ever by a player in an Indian shirt.
Arguably the best Indian forward of all time, from 1956-62, he was the first name on the team sheet. Discovered by coach Syed Abdul Rahim in Secunderabad, he had all the attributes of a top class striker. Blessed with exceptional pace and ball control, he could finish from anywhere in the forward line. What made him even more dangerous was his ability to drop deep and pick a pass or initiate another attack at pace, drawing comparisons in recent times with Thierry Henry.
Balaram, as he was popularly called, had started his career in Hyderabad before moving to East Bengal in 1957, where he spent six years being treated like a king by adoring supporters. He switched to Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) in 1963 for financial security before retiring two years later.
The Tulsidas Balaraman, Chuni Goswami and P.K. Banerjee triumvirate formed India’s best forward line of all time and the lack of a Padma Shri on his mantelpiece rankles, especially since the other two were awarded a long time ago. Bitter about the snub, he lives alone in a small flat in Kolkata. The authorities may have forgotten about him, but Balaraman still gets treated like a king by football fans in the vicinity of his home and that provides him with some succour.