Former India footballer Poongam Kannan, who was facing acute financial crisis, died at a city hospital Sunday evening following prolonged illness, family sources said. He was 80. Kannan is survived by his wife Antoinette and two daughters. “He breathed his last around 6pm,” a family source said.
A forward, Kannan played 14 matches for India and suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this month. There was a campaign on various social media platforms to raise funds for the family.
According to his former teammates, Kannan in his hey days dribbled past defenders like a magician.
For about a decade, the former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal forward was diagnosed with “severe osteoarthritis” that compounded his misery as he was a heart patient and had stent-implantation.
Kannan lived with his two daughters and wife in a one-bedroom apartment in a narrow bylane of Jawpur road in Dumdum and the family had made several appeals to his clubs and the state government to foot medical bills of the star of yesteryear.
“We have written to both his former clubs as we needed Rs 5 lakh (in 2009) for his knee replacements. But the only help we got was from East Bengal who had given him Rs 50,000. That’s all. Nobody cares about him now,” Kannan’s wife, Antoinette had told PTI in an interview two years ago.
Kannan was one of the few players of extraordinary calibre to have come to Bengal and had plied his trade both in Mohun Bagan (8 years) and East Bengal (2) and represented India at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games and 1968 Meredeka Cup before leaving the pitch in 1982.
He also won Santosh Trophy for Bengal twice in a row (1971-73) and was the top-scorer.
It was legendary German coach Dettmar Cramer who had given him the best appreciation by calling him ‘Pele of Asia’ in 1968 when he was invited by the AIFF to conduct a two-week coaching in Mumbai.
Born in Vandavasi in Tamil Nadu, Kannan also played in Bengaluru and Chennai.
He played for four years for Universal RC in the Chennai Football Association (CFA) senior division football league.