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Quick feet, sharp mind: Chuni Goswami, captain of Asiad-winning team, passes away

Chuni Goswami was so good that even Tottenham Hotspur made an offer. But as the story goes, the sports icon had just got a job at State Bank of India and the safety net weighed heavy.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Kolkata | Updated: May 1, 2020 8:13:06 am
Chuni Goswami breathed his last in Kolkata on Thursday. (Source: Twitter/IndianFootball)

Chuni Goswami was India’s greatest-ever footballer. His superiority was beyond any doubt. He was also arguably India’s greatest-ever all-round sportsman, for he also led Bengal to a Ranji Trophy final. He was Mr Quicksilver of Indian sport.

Goswami, 82, breathed his last in Kolkata on Thursday. He was suffering from age-related ailments. His family confirmed that he was admitted to a city hospital earlier in the day, where he died of a heart attack around 5pm. He is survived by wife Basanti and son Sudipto.

India won the 1962 Asian Games football gold under Goswami’s captaincy. He also led India to the 1964 Asian Cup silver medal. His top-flight football career spanned from 1954 to 1958 before he made a seamless transition to cricket. Goswami, however, was a lot more than his longevity as a player, the number of goals he scored, the medals he won, the postage stamp in his honour or the Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award he was conferred with.

READ | Chuni Goswami: Swerve, dribble, shoot… repeat

Former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a fan. Old-timers at Mohun Bagan still speak about how the great philosopher and statesman loved to watch Goswami skipping past defenders during Durand Cup matches in Delhi. He was so good that even Tottenham Hotspur made an offer. But as the story goes, Goswami had just got a job at State Bank of India and the safety net weighed heavy.

“Chuni was a fantastic dribbler. His close control was superb. But those weren’t the biggest attributes of his game. His greatness lay in his brain. Great players play with their brains, which sets them apart with regards to decision-making. And decision-making (on the pitch) separates a great footballer from a good one,” Tulsidas Balaram, Goswami’s India teammate and a part of Indian football’s ‘Three Musketeers’ – PK Banerjee, Chuni and Balaram – told The Indian Express.

“I am devastated. Pradip (Banerjee) passed away last month and now Chuni. For me, the losses are unbearable. We played for different clubs. Chuni was a Bagan man through and through (a Mohun Bagan Ratna), while I played for East Bengal. And yet, when we played for Bengal and India, our understanding was telepathic. Chuni, PK and Balaram played football with their brains,” said Balaram.

He agreed that there was a healthy rivalry when they played club football. “Yes, we wanted to outshine each other in Bagan versus East Bengal matches. It helped us become better players.”

Subimal Goswami, who became famous by his nickname, was born on January 15, 1938 at Kishoreganj in erstwhile East Bengal. In 1946, he joined the Bagan junior team and was nurtured by Balaidas Chatterjee. In 1954, he graduated to the senior team and played for the green-and-maroon until he retired in 1968. As per AIFF stats, Goswami scored 200 goals for his club – 145 in the Calcutta Football League, 25 in the IFA Shield, 18 in the Durand Cup, 11 in the Rovers Cup and one in the Dr HK Mookerjee Shield.

READ | Tributes pour in for Chuni Goswami- ‘India’s first football superstar’

Goswami made his international debut against Burma (now Myanmar) at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games and scored in his first game, as India rallied to win 3-2. He went on to represent India in 36 internationals, captaining in 16 of them, and netting 13 goals. The 1962 Asian Games was his crowning glory; India beating South Korea 2-1 in the final to win the gold medal.

The late PK Banerjee once recalled how the entire stadium in Jakarta was booing India and baying for blood, because an Indian official had supported Israel’s inclusion in the Asiad. The football team bore the brunt but the final was a triumph of the collective will of 11 Indians.

As a cricketer, Goswami was an all-rounder – a middle-order batsman and decent medium-pace inswing bowler. He made his first-class debut in 1962 and for six years played cricket and football at a high level. He led Bengal to the 1971-72 Ranji Trophy final where his team lost to Bombay. He also played for East Zone. In 46 first-class matches, Goswami scored 1,592 runs including a century and took 47 wickets. He was also a very capable tennis player, a regular on the South Club courts.

All India Football Federation president Praful Patel condoled Goswami’s death. “It’s sad to hear that Chuni-da, one of India’s greatest footballers, is no more. His contribution to Indian Football will never be forgotten… He will stay synonymous with the golden generation of Indian football.”

The BCCI mourned his death through a tweet. Cricket Association of Bengal president Avishek Dalmiya said: “His contribution to football would be cherished forever. In the same vein, he was not only the Captain of Bengal Cricket Team but had also received the Kartick Bose Lifetime Achievement Award of The Cricket Association of Bengal in 2011-12 for his Cricketing Excellence.”

Former BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah called Goswami a “rare” sporting talent and a “true legend”. Former India spinner and ex-Bengal captain Dilip Doshi said: “He had a great sense of humour which he timely applied to release the tension in the dressing room. India is poorer without such stalwarts and icons of sport.”

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