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Updated: February 23, 2011 20:14 IST

They used to call out Ulaga… Ulaga!

Avinash Nair
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Veteran Football Player N. Ulaganathan. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu Veteran Football Player N. Ulaganathan. Photo: Special Arrangement

Veteran footballer Ulaganathan stands out among his peers for never being booked with a yellow card

Cries of “Ulaga...Ulaga” were common in the mid '70s and early '80s when the ‘Black Pearl' of Indian football dazzled spectators with his speed and skill. The proverbial knife through butter was how one could best describe Ulaganathan's splendid run down the flanks. Ulaganathan, like most footballers from Bangalore, is a product of Gouthampura area, in Ulsoor. He now resides in Fraser Town close to other stalwarts who donned India jerseys such as Rajashekar, Mohan Kumar and Subramanyam.

Ulaganathan began his career with Bangalore Mars before moving on to 515 ArmyBase workshop and from there to Controllerate of Inspection Electronics (CIL), until Kolkata came calling.

“The offer from Kolkata Clubs came a year or two before I joined Mohun Bagan, thanks to Salien Manna-da,” the veteran says.

It was when with CIL that Ulaga got the India call. In a Stafford Cup semifinal before the 74 Merdeka, CIL went on to beat the Merdeka bound Indian team (minus Ulaganathan) 2-0. An injured Ulaganathan was released by CIL without much fuss and the next 10 years, eight of them with the maroon-and-green colours of Mohun Bagan, were the most glorious days of Ulaganathan's career.

In 1974, he became the first Indian player to score a hattrick in the Durrand Cup final to help Mohun Bagan pip JCT Mills 3-2 for the trophy, which even today is spoken of highly by veteran footballers.

His love for Kolkata maidans is now part of folklore, for very few have played for all the three ‘big names' in the Kolkata league — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting.

Ulaga does not regret the lack of money in football then. “The money was not so bad for someone like me,” says Ulaga, who was a professional footballer. He did not pick up a job just because he wanted to spend time with his family in Bangalore during the off-season, until 1979. Then he joined Bengal Chemicals in the marketing wing in Bangalore, and worked there right up until his retirement.

Even temper

Ulaga, during his entire career, was not booked with a yellow card. He attributes it to his temperament. “Although I was injured from head to toe as defenders tried their best to stop me, I never retaliated,” he says.

“Today, the surfaces used for football is so much better with even artificial turf being used.... In our days it was hard grounds that only gave us aches and pains,” he recalls

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