Football legend Chuni Goswami passes away

Published : April 30, 2020 22:46 IST

Chuni Goswamy, in 1959. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

People who saw him play describe him as “moving like a snake” across the field, dribbling past one player after another, even reducing the hapless goalkeeper to a mere spectator. There was magic in his feet and he was grace personified when he moved. People would come from far and wide just to see him play. That was Subimal ‘Chuni’ Goswami, a name practically synonymous with Indian football and the Mohun Bagan Club. On April 30, one of the brightest gems of Indian sports (Chuni means Ruby), who represented Indian football in its golden era—between 1956 and 1964—passed away. He was 82 and suffering from age-related illnesses.

It was under Chuni’s captaincy that India won the gold in the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, one of the greatest moments in Indian football. Born on January 15, 1938, in Kishoregunj (now in Bangladesh), Chuni started playing for the Mohun Bagan junior side from the age of eight. He was a precocious talent, who by the age of 16 moved up to the main squad. In 1957 he was already an integral part of the Mohun Bagan team that won the second “doubles” for the club (the IFA Shield and the Calcutta Football League).

His fellow centre-forward in Mohun Bagan, the legendary captain of the 1956 Indian team that reached the fourth place in the Melbourne Olympics, Samar ‘Badru’ Banerjee remembers playing alongside the young Chuni: “We played football with a bonding that is hard to come by. That was reflected in our games as well…. He had a wonderful dribbling technique, leaning sideways, using the outside of both his feet; he could turn beautifully, in fact, he was a delight to watch. He was one of those players people would flock to see. A crowd-puller in the truest sense of the term,” Badru told Frontline. Chuni’s playing style often drew comparisons with the legendary Ahmed Mohammed Khan, the ‘snake charmer’ of East Bengal club, the traditional rival of Chuni’s Mohun Bagan. Chuni would emerge as arguably the greatest institution of Mohun Bagan, captaining the club from 1960 to 1964.

Chuni made his debut in the national side at the age of 19, when he was selected for India’s tour to the Far East. In 1958, he played in the Tokyo Asian Games, and in 1959, in the Merdeka Tournament. By then he was already an established superstar of the game, and in 1962, under his captaincy, India won the Asiad gold in Jakarta. The achievement brought him international acclaim, and it is believed that around that time Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League had invited him to train with them. Chuni turned down the offer to remain with his beloved Mohun Bagan, from where he retired in 1968.

Chuni was not just a football player, he was, in fact, a complete sportsman. It is an oft-overlooked fact that he played in two Ranji Trophy finals, in 1969 and 1972, in which he captained the Bengal cricket team. He was also an excellent tennis player, and after retiring from active sports, he would be seen in the tennis clubs of Kolkata. “Chuni da had many talents. He played tennis, football, cricket. Whatever he touched turned to gold. He even acted. Those who have seen him play will remember him, but the young generation does not have any idea what great footballers Bengal had at one time. What can be sadder than that,” said Bidesh Bose, another Mohun Bagan legend, after Chuni’s death.

However, for Mohun Bagan fans, even those who never saw him play, Chuni was the ultimate icon. “Chuni was a Mohun Bagan legend who knew that being a legend should solely depend on the quality of football played—the rest being extra. He was the dapper, striking striker, who also transcended devotion from the tribe of Bengali football fans to that of Indians at large after he captained and won India the Asian Games gold in 1962. But, ultimately, Chuni was and remains the ruby in Bagan’s crown,” said Indrajit Hazra, a die-hard Mohun Bagan fan who is too young to have ever seen Chuni play.

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