He gave up the fight for life when the city was still asleep. And when people woke up to hear the first news bulletin they learnt with great sadness that Monem Munna was no more.
The 39-year-old football icon breathed his last at 6 am on Saturday, ending an 18-day struggle with septicaemia at the Bangladesh Medical College and Hospital (BMCH) in Dhanmondi.
One of the finest defenders Bangladesh football has ever produced, Munna's death left the sports fraternity in deep shock and people from all walks of life found it hard to come to terms with the untimely demise of a player, who ruled the pitch like a king during the 80s and 90s.
Sports lovers rushed to Abahani club, the second home of the famous footballer, to pay their last respects. And it was especially heartbreaking for his wife Yesmin as the day was to be their 12th marriage anniversary.
Fans and football players cried in silence as Munna's body was carried out of the field where he often trained with the club's official flag flying at half-mast.
His body was then taken to the Bangabandhu National Stadium, where he was cheered by thousands for two decades. But yesterday another thousand assembled on that green top only to say their final farewell to a great entertainer.
"It is painful to see (Monem) Munna bhai leave us so quickly. I have never seen such a dominant character on the field in any sport of the country," said cricketer Khaled Mahmud.
"I think Munna bhai was a rare player who could bring spectators to the ground with his sheer charisma," said national defender Hasan Al Mamun.
The death of Munna indeed closed a golden chapter in Bangladesh football that saw him being revered as a giant both in Dhaka and Calcutta leagues.
Munna never looked back once he was spotted playing for his school team Narayanganj that won the district football title in 1981.
A quick learner Munna, who was always known as a straight talker, made his national team debut at the age of 18 during the Seoul Asian Games in 1986. He led the national team to the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 and it was under his captaincy that Bangladesh won their first international trophy in the four-nation tournament in Myanmar in 1995. In the same year Bangladesh finished runners-up in the Madras SAF Games.No challenge was too great for a charismatic Munna, who captured the hearts and minds of Indian football fans during his three-year stint with Calcutta giants East Bengal in the 1991-93 season.
But the best of Munna was seen and talked about during his 12 glorious years with Abahani. He led the popular Sky Blues to lift the coveted Premier League title twice.
Having retired in 1997, the one time highest paid footballer of the country paid a heavy price for leading a 'could not care less' lifestyle.
"It was impossible for Munna bhai to think of anything but football which finally took a heavy toll on his life. We always requested him after his operation not to take the pressure but like the man he was he always said: 'It is impossible for me to live without football'," said midfielder Arman while reflecting on the headstrong character.
Munna was diagnosed with kidney related complications and underwent a transplant operation in Bangalore in January 2000 and returned to football in a different capacity. As manager of Abahani he guided the Dhanmondi-based club to three major domestic titles -- the Premier League, National League and the Federation Cup -- in that year.
But this season he had gone through a lot of trouble both on and off the pitch. But whatever that may have been, Munna will live in the hearts of millions for being a footballer who never knew how to say no.
Meanwhile, Abahani have announced a weeklong mourning programme which includes keeping the club's flag at half- mast, opening of a condolence book from February 12 to 18 and arranging a milad mahfil on February 15 followed by a condolence meeting.
LEAVING FOR THE LAST TIME THE PLACE HE LOVED MOST: The coffin of Monem Munna (insert) is being carried out of the Abahani Club yesterday afternoon. Munna's first namaj-e-janaza was held at the club. PHOTO: STAR
Edited on, February 12, 2005, 6:17 PM GMT, by reverse_swing.