East Bengal ‘Chap’ whose hattrick stunned Al Zawra’a and hand-held Bhutia, dead
Carlton Chapman, the buck-toothed attacking midfielder whose hattrick for East Bengal shredded to bits the reputation of Iraq’s Al Zawra’a, died after a heart attack in Bengaluru on Monday. Chapman, a former India captain, was 49.
Everyone called him ‘Chap’ and he responded with a smile, a high-five and often a hug. Chap would stop and offer a lift if he saw a journalist walking towards the East Bengal or Mohun Bagan clubs that are separated by a road now named after Leslie Claudius. So full of joie de vivre was Chap that some of it rubbed off on you if you shared a short ride with him.
It was Chap who hand-held Bhaichung Bhutia, literally, in his first East Bengal game. Stardom embraced Bhutia in the way it never did Chapman but the two along with Bruno Coutinho, Renedy Singh, IM Vijayan, Tajinder Kumar, Tushar Rakshit and Jo Paul Ancheri were an integral part of the India team in the 1990s.
“We were like brothers,” says Renedy Singh interrupting his training in Imphal. “I was with him for three years at East Bengal. He was my senior at TFA (Tata Football Academy) and my captain at East Bengal. He was a leader who led not by talking but showing how good he was on the ground. As a junior at East Bengal, he helped me. Raman (Vijayan), Franky (Barreto), Bhaichung, Soso (Somatai Shaiza) Chap, we played together and were very close. We were in touch when he as coaching in Shillong (at Wahingdoh).
“Last met him two years back in Delhi when Bruno, he, IM Vijayan, Ancheri, Bhaichung played a legends’ friendly,” says Singh, a former international midfielder who led both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and will be Robbie Fowler’s assistant at SC East Bengal in ISL7.
From Austin Town in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), football chose Chap. The suburb is also known as Ferdinand Kittel Nagar but for Chap it was always Austin Town. He was proud of his roots being in a place which has produced a number of internationals from the 1948 Olympics team through Ulaganathan to his brother Noel Wilson. The ground where Chap learnt the ropes is named after Nandan, an international goalkeeper.
Chap went to Tata Football Academy in 1991 and joined East Bengal in 1993. He was a thin, fair-complexioned rookie at East Bengal; their Asian Cup Winners’ Cup first round opponents Al Zawra’a anything but. They were a champion team from Iraq having won the domestic league and cup. In the side that came to Kolkata was Ahmed Radhi who had scored in the 1986 World Cup. On October 6, 1993, East Bengal scripted a 6-2 win --- Chapman’s searing runs leaving the Iraqi giants chasing crooked shadows.
It was the start of a productive career that took Chap to JCT who, under the astute coaching of Sukhwinder Singh, forged a team that ruled the domestic circuit from 1995-1997. Chap also represented FC Kochin, the team founded in 1997 by expatriates promising to usher an era of professionalism. He returned to East Bengal in 1998, playing for the red-and-golds till they won the National Football League 2001. With East Bengal, he won pretty much every trophy Indian football had to offer. The Federation Cup he could not so Chap went to JCT and added it to his trophy cabinet.
He had a distinguished India career too, from 1993 to 2001 and was captain of the team that won the 1997 SAFF Championships. With goals from Bhutia, Ancheri, IM Vijayan (2) and Amit Das, India beat Maldives 5-1 in the final, having drawn 2-2 in the group league. Chap scored six goals in 39 games for India. He did well in the Santosh Trophy, winning it thrice with Bengal besides representing Punjab and Karnataka. As coach Chap returned to TFA and worked at Wahingdoh, Bhawanipore FC and Sudeva.
Since Covid-19 disrupted lives, football in India has lost some sheen with the passing of PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Manitombi Singh and now the medio who was as affable as he was able. He will be missed.