Chuni Goswami, the gem of Indian football, passes away

The footballer extraordinaire was 82 when he breathed his last on Thursday evening in a Kolkata nursing home.

Chuni Goswami, former India footballer and Olympian, featured 32 times for the national team.   -  The Hindu Archives

Subimal ‘Chuni’ Goswami, the man who inspired India to the pinnacle of its footballing glory – gold at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta – is no more. The footballer extraordinaire was 82 when he breathed his last on Thursday evening in a Kolkata nursing home, where he had been admitted earlier in the day after complaining of uneasiness. He is survived by his wife and son.

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Considered one of the finest footballers to have ever played for India, Goswami’s name became synonymous with celebrated club Mohun Bagan, for whom he played throughout his football career without changing allegiance. “I always called him captain. I knew him since the days when we played for the Calcutta University team, where he was also the captain. There was a commanding thing about him that made him the natural choice as a captain,” said Arun Ghosh, the great defender of the Indian team that triumphed in Jakarta.

The high point of India’s growing presence in international football came in the 1960s and it was Chuni Goswami’s leadership skills that brought together a group of outstanding players to produce the magic for India, which beat South Korea 2-1 in the final.

“He was extremely skilful as a forward and most of our opponents were always planning their strategies keeping Chuni da (elder brother in Bengali) in mind. He possessed the skill and ingenuity to beat any kind of defence he came across,” Ghosh said about his captain.

According to statistics available with the All India Football Federation, Goswami represented India in 36 official international matches and was captain in 16. He has 13 international goals to his credit.

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Goswami had spoken many times of receiving an invitation from prominent English club Tottenham Hotspur, which asked him to appear for trials in England. This happened after the news of India’s win in Jakarta spread far and wide. But Goswami refused to travel as he was not too keen on leaving Mohun Bagan, where he enjoyed immense popularity as captain.

Goswami had made his international debut at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo and was also a part of the Indian squad that played the 1960 Olympics in Rome. After the Asian Games triumph in Jakarta, Goswami captained the Indian team at the Asian Cup in Tel Aviv in 1964. By that time, he had been conferred the Arjuna Award (in 1963) for his outstanding contribution to football. He received the Padma Shri in 1983.

Chuni Goswami with Brazilian football legend Pele.   -  PTI

 

“It is sad to hear that Chuni da, one of India’s greatest footballers, is no more. He will stay synonymous with the golden generation of Indian football. Chuni da, you will remain alive in our hearts,” Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation, said in a statement.

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Goswami’s quick reflexes and dribbling skills made him the darling of fans as well as his peers. “It was a sheer joy to see his dribbling skills that put the best of defenders under pressure. The stories about his exceptional skill that helped Mohun Bagan win scores of titles have passed on through generations and made him so popular even now,” said Olympian Samar (Badru) Banerjee.

“Chuni Goswami is a god for me. He is definitely one of the best footballers to have played for the country. The loss is irreparable and very painful,” said Subrata Bhattacharya, the former Indian captain and another Mohun Bagan stalwart, who followed in his idol’s footsteps by retaining his allegiance for only one club in his playing career.

Goswami’s popularity overshadowed every Indian footballer of his generation because of his versatility. He excelled in cricket as well. Under his captaincy, Bengal reached the Ranji Trophy final in 1971-72 season before losing to Bombay at the Brabourne Stadium. The Cricket Association of Bengal conferred him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his exploits with the willow.

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