Former footballers remember their favourite 'Chuni da'

Former footballers Shyam Thapa, Syed Nayeemuddin, Pradip Chowdhury and Shyamal Banerjee share their memories of Chuni Goswami.

File picture of Chuni Goswami.   -  The Hindu Archives

Former India footballer Shyam Thapa believes his time at Mohun Bagan between 1977 and 1982 was made "all the more special" by the legendary Indian captain Chuni Goswami, who was a frequent visitor at the Maidan tent in Kolkata.

"I was blessed to have met someone like Chuni da. Though I never got to share the pitch with him, I will always remember our many interactions," said Thapa, unable to hold his tears back.

Thapa still remembers the first time he saw the star in action on the field. "When I first came to Calcutta in 1966 at the age of 17, by then, he had already retired from the Indian team. But you could fall in love with him by just watching him dribble. He was my idol. It was because of him that I could sometimes beat a number of defenders and score with relative ease."

READ: Chuni Goswami, the gem of Indian football, passes away

Thapa, who helped India win the bronze medal in both the 1970 Merdeka tournament and Bangkok Asian Games, believes he owes a lot to Goswami. "'You copy me,' he had once said jokingly during one of his many regular dressing room tours (laughs). I actually did. I cannot even go visit him for the last time now, such is the situation."

When asked about his favourite memory of his "loving elder brother", Thapa was quick to answer. "South Calcutta Club. That was where we made actual memories. We both had memberships and would often play tennis the whole day."

READ: Chuni Goswami, a ‘complete’ cricketer too!

Thapa became a household name after he scored the famous bicycle volley goal against East Bengal in the 1978 Calcutta Football League. When questioned whether he got to hear from the 1962 Asian Games gold medalist after that, he said, "Obviously! He was there to witness it. After it happened, he rushed towards me and embraced me tightly saying, 'Look at what you have done today. Eita toh aamio korte paartam na re (Even I couldn't have done that)'".

Another legend Syed Nayeemuddin remembers Goswami as a "fine forward". "He was very hardworking and disciplined. He had high level of fitness. Was a true professional. He used to practice every morning and evening without fail. As a person he was very sportive and helpful," Nayeemuddin said.

For Pradip Chowdhury, Goswami was his "favourite host". "You won't believe what an incredible gentleman Chuni da was. I have no count of how many times I have been to his house to gorge on lip-smacking delicacies."

Pradip, who joined the Mariners in 1976, was Goswami's doubles partner at the tennis club. "You should have watched him play! We won so many tournaments together. Cricket, football and tennis put aside, I believe if Chuni da would have picked up hockey, he would have excelled at that too. He was a born sportsman."

Former Mohun Bagan captain Shyamal Banerjee is devastated. "I cannot believe what I am hearing. This is a great loss to Indian football."

Banerjee, who had won the Shobuj Merun (Green and Maroon) squad the Durand Cup under the late P.K. Banerjee's tutelage in 1984, still remembers how Goswami often visited them at the training grounds because he was great friends with P.K., who passed away on March 20. "They were great friends and they were the ones who took Indian football to places. We were then discussed internationally because of the magic these two created on the grounds, leaving everyone spellbound!"

Goswami visiting the footballers had its merits. "More often than not, he would end up teaching us one or two tricks of the trade."

(With inputs from Y.B. Sarangi)

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