CHUNI GOSWAMI, ONE OF THE FINEST Indian footballers of all time, has passed away at the age of 82.
Apart from being an Indian football legend, he was also a first class cricketer and represented the Bengal team in Ranji Trophy.
Throughout his entire football career, he played for Mohun Bagan. At the age of 8, he joined the Mariners and was groomed from the grassroot level through youth football until in 1954 he made his debut for the senior team at the age of 16. His full name was Subimal Goswami, but he soon became well-known throughout the Maidan by his nick-name Chuni (the Bengali word for the gem ruby).
During his formative early years at the club, he was focusing on both football and cricket. On the football pitch he was a striker and from an early age was pegged by his coaches as a national team prospect. In cricket, he was an all-rounder who played as a right-handed batsman and right-handed medium pacer.
A rare athlete, he had success in football early on. Within two years of playing senior level football, he broke into the national team. In 1958, he was part of the Indian contingent at the Asian Games. He scored against Burma and Hong Kong, sealing his spot as a regular starter for the next decade.
Meanwhile, he was playing a leading role at Mohun Bagan, helping them rack up more trophies every season. By 1960, he had already tasted three of the biggest trophies in the country at that time; the Durand Cup, the IFA Shield and the Calcutta Football League.
That year at Kochi, a massive crowd turned up to see the Indian football team take on take on Iran at an Asian Cup qualifier match. A dominant 3-1 win in that game ushered in the golden age of Indian football; and Chuni Goswami's name was on the scoresheet.
In 1962, as the Indian team took on the best in the continent at the Asian Games, Chuni was the captain. At the semi-finals, India took on a fierce South Vietnam who were unbeaten in the tournament till then. A thriller unfolded in Jakarta as Chuni Goswami scored twice, once early in the first half then with 15 minutes to spare, to clinch a hair-raising 3-2 victory that got India into the final.
At the final in front of a hostile crowd of 100,000, India took on South Korea and with Goswami wearing the captain's armband, marched to a 2-1 victory. It was the first time India had triumphed at a senior level all-Asian competition, and it remains the only time this happened. Chuni also captained the team to a second place finish at the 1964 Asian Cup, which also remains the country's best performance till date.
By this time, Goswami had won the Best Striker of Asia Award and attracted interest from Tottenham Hotspur. He was asked to go over for a trial the English club but decided against it, preferring to remain with his family and job back in Kolkata. Later on, he would regret that decision. He remains the only Indian player who attracted such interest from a club of global repute.
By 1968, he had won every major domestic trophy with Mohun Bagan, including the Rovers Cup which eluded him till 1966. He decided to hang up his footballing boots in 1968 at the age of 30, but continued playing cricket.
He had already broken into the Ranji Trophy circuit back in 1968 and his first class career flourished once he devoted all his attention to the sport. Playing for Bengal, he reached the Ranji Trophy final. In 1973, he retired from cricket, ending his athletic career. For Bengal, he had played 46 matches, scoring 1592 runs with a batting average of 28.42. He scored a century and 7 fifties, also taking 47 wickets.
A rare sportsman who achieved high level success in two sports, Chuni was also decent in field hockey. He played a match for the Mohun Bagan hockey team; the most successful club side in the history of Indian hockey. Those who played lawn tennis at Kolkata's famed South Club also remember him as a formidable presence on the court.
But football remained the sport where he achieved life-defining success. Even after retirement, he remained close to Mohun Bagan, occasionally serving as a club official. He also took up coaching, serving as the Director of the Tata Football Academy for 3 years and also coaching the Indian national team for a year.
For his sporting achievements, Chuni Goswami won the Arjuna Award in 1963 and the Padma Shri award in 1983. In 2005, Mohun Bagan coronated him as Mohun Bagan Ratna; the highest honour in the club. Both at the club and in Indian football, he remains a legend; and according to many, the best ever.
Late in 2019, he began a battle with prolonged illness that would last for many months. On 30th April 2020, he passed away, leaving his fans around the country heartbroken.
His mortal remains were wrapped up in the green and maroon Mohun Bagan flag, as per club tradition, during his final journey.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, fans who wanted to pay their last respects to one of the brightests starts of all time in Indian football, could not. Online, condolences and tributes poured in from all corners; from AIFF to AFC and even Tottenham Hotspur.
It is understood that once the lockdowns are lifted and large gatherings are considered safe, the club will pay its special respects to the legend.