Subhas Bhowmick, legendary football player and coach, passes away

Published : January 22, 2022 20:28 IST

Subhas Bhowmick in his avatar as a coach for East Bengal club. Photo: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

With the death of Subhas Bhowmick on January 22, Indian football has lost one of its biggest legends whose contributions as a player and later as a coach revolutionised the game and placed Indian football on the global map.

With the death of Subhas Bhowmick on January 22, Indian football has lost one of its biggest legends whose contributions as a player and later as a coach revolutionised the game and placed Indian football on the global map. As a player, Bhowmick was a key member of the squad that won the bronze medal in the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok, the last time India won a medal in football in the Asian Games. Years later as a coach, he guided East Bengal club to the historic ASEAN Cup victory in 2003, the only time an Indian football club won a recognised international tournament. He was, in fact, the only person to have achieved international glory both as a player and as a coach.

Bhowmick was 71 when he passed away and was suffering from kidney- and diabetes-related problems for the past few months before testing positive for COVID.

In his condolence message, Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), said: “It’s sad to hear that Bhowmick-da, one of the greatest footballers of his generation, is no more. His invaluable contribution to Indian Football will always remain with us, and will never be forgotten. Indian Football has only got poorer. My condolences to his family. I share the grief.”

Born on October 2, 1950, Bhowmick made his international debut for India when he was only 19 in the Merdeka Cup in 1970. India won the bronze medal in that tournament. Powerfully built and endowed with enormous physical strength and speed, Bhowmick, with his lethal combination of power and skill, could be devastating in the forward position. When in full sway, he was like an unstoppable force, surging past defenders and hammering in goals. He was also a subtle play-maker, creating opportunities and setting up attacks with well-timed and precise passes.

In 1970, the year he made his international debut, Bhowmick was a key member of the squad that won the bronze in the Bangkok Asian Games. The following year, he was a part of the national team which came joint first in the Pesta Sukan Cup. Bhowmick went on to represent India a total of 24 times and had nine international goals under his belt. In 1968, while still in his late teens, Bhowmick represented Bengal in the Santosh Trophy tournament in which Bengal ended up in the second position. He represented his State in Santosh Trophy seven times (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975) in the course of which Bengal won the cup four times (1969, 1971, 1972, 1975). Bhowmick had scored a total of 24 goals in the tournaments.

His record at the club level was legendary. He began his club career with the Rajasthan Club, Kolkata, in 1968 and had scored seven goals at the Calcutta Football League. He then moved on to play for East Bengal for five seasons (1969, 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1979). He helped the club win the Calcutta Football League and the IFA Shield three times in (1973, 1974, 1975); the Rovers Cup twice (1969 and 1973); the DCM Trophy two years in a row (1973, 1974); and the Bordoloi Trophy in 1973. He scored 82 goals playing for East Bengal.

During his stint at Mohun Bagan (in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1978), the club won Calcutta Football League in 1976 and 1978; the IFA Shield in 1976 (joint-winners with East Bengal), 1977 and 1978 (joint-winners with Ararat Yerevan); the Federation Cup in 1978 (joint-winners with East Bengal); the Rovers Cup in 1970, 1971, 1972 (joint-winners with East Bengal), and 1977; the Durand Cup in 1977; the Nehru Trophy in 1970; the Bordoloi Trophy in 1976 and 1977; the Darjeeling Gold Cup in 1976 (joint-winners with East Bengal); and the Sait Nagjee Trophy in 1978. He had scored a total of 84 goals for Mohun Bagan, taking his total club career tally to 173 goals. In 1980, Bhowmick retired from playing.

ASEAN Cup win

Great as his career was as a player, it was as a coach that he achieved legendary status. He not only modernised the game by introducing structured training during his stint as East Bengal coach, he also led the club to a historic win in the LG ASEAN Cup in Jakarta in 2003. It was the first time that an Indian football club won a recognised international tournament. “I had dared to dream, and had worked accordingly to achieve it,” Bhowmick had told Frontline after the famous victory. It was a turning point in Indian football and Bhowmick as the coach left no stones unturned to make it happen. He hired Kevin Jackson, a South African fitness expert, worked on the psychology of the players, tweaked their diet and their training pattern, and instilled in them the belief that they could beat the best teams in Asia. He had even persuaded the East Bengal club management to arrange five-star accommodation for the players for a month prior to the tournament. “It was important for them not to leave for a foreign country with an inferiority complex. Moreover, by staying for a month together in a hotel, we all grew closer to each other, and Kevin and I could keep a close watch on the diet of the players and their training,” Bhowmick had said. Bhowmick’s initiatives soon began to be emulated by other clubs as well.

Bhowmick was also fortunate to have one of the best teams in East Bengal’s history. Alvito D’Cunha, the midfield star of the team, said: “Of course, we were the best team in India, but it was not easy to compete against the best teams of Asia. Subhas Bhowmick made us believe that we were not the underdogs but the favourites to win the trophy. Most of the credit for the victory goes to him.” D’Cunha described Bhowmick as a father-figure to the players off the field.

At the club-level, too, Bhowmick guided East Bengal to victory in the Kolkata Football League (2002-2004); and helped the club win the San Miguel Cup in Kathmandu in 2004, the National Football League twice in a row in 2002-03, and 2003-04; the IFA Shield, the Independence Day Cup and the Durand Cup in 2002. In 2017, East Bengal club honoured him with the East Bengal Lifetime Achievement Award. He had also coached the Mohun Bagan team which had won the Sikkim Gold Cup in 1992, and when Churchill Brothers won the Hero I-League in 2012-13, Bhowmick was the technical director of the team.

Bhowmick’s passing marked the end of a glorious era in Indian football. Expressing her grief, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee posted on social media: “Deeply grieved that stalwart footballer, coach Subhas Bhowmick is no more. 1970 Asian Games medallist, celebrated footballer in Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, representing the country in international tournaments & coached successfully big three clubs of Kolkata, he was a legend. Our Govt had conferred on him Kriraguru award in 2013. His passing away will create a big void in the world of sports. My deep condolences to his family, friends, followers and football enthusiasts.”