Chuni Goswami - A footballer who could count India’s president as his fan

The iconic sportsperson, who also played first-class cricket for Bengal, was 82 and breathed his last at a hospital here. He is survived by his wife Basanti and son Sudipto.
A file photo of Chuni Goswami.(Twitter)
A file photo of Chuni Goswami.(Twitter)
Updated on May 01, 2020 10:44 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By

Chuni Goswami, captain of the 1962 Asian Games football gold medal winning India team, died after a heart attack on Thursday at a nursing home near his residence in south Calcutta. He was 82 and is survived by wife Basanti and son Sudipto.

Goswami’s death comes a little over one month after former India teammate PK Banerjee’s passing. Banerjee, Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram were part of a famous India forwardline which scored nine of India’s 11 goals on way to the Asian Games gold medal in Jakarta.

India won 12 of the 16 games they played together. All of them came between 1958 and 1962; the trio scoring 20 of India’s 36 goals in that period. Goswami, who played inside-left in a five-forward formation, scored seven of those goals.

Of wiry build, Goswami had remarkable ball control and could dribble his way out of most situations. Rival defenders would be exhorted by their coaches to look at the ball and never at Goswami’s legs for they would then have no hope of getting the ball. And for a player that lean, Goswami could pack a punch. Goswami’s Mohun Bagan and India teammate Jarnail Singh called him an artist.

Known to be a tough taskmaster, the famous India coach Syed Rahim had a soft spot for Goswami. Once, Goswami joined an India camp late and a player pointed that out to Rahim. “Play like him and I will let you join late too,” Rahim said.

Goswami debuted for India against Myanmar in the 1958 Asian Games, scoring in his first match. He played international football till 1964 netting 13 goals in 36 games. In that time, India played the 1960 Olympics where they narrowly lost to a heavyweight Hungary team that had Florian Albert --- European Player of the Year in 1967 --- and players from top clubs such as Ferencvaros and Honved.

Two years later, Goswami led India to the Asian Games gold. Goswami scored three goals in the campaign including a brace in the semi-finals as India beat South Vietnam 3-2. The other goal in the semi-final came from Singh with Goswami providing the final pass.

He quit international football after the Merdeka Cup in 1964 and after India finished runners-up in the Asian Cup that year.

Goswami was a pin-up in Indian sport much before the term became popular. He could count among his fans Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India’s second President. Seeing him warm-up before a Durand Cup final, where the President was the chief guest, Radhakrishnan said: So, I see Chuni again. You seem to have become a permanent feature in the finals.”

This was when Mohun Bagan --- the only club Goswami played for, starting as a junior in 1946 and retiring in 1968 --- won the Durand Cup for three seasons in a row, from 1963. Goswami scored 200 goals for Mohun Bagan --- many of them from the final pass of outside-left Arumainayagam with whom he had great understanding --- after joining the senior team in 1954. He also won three Santosh Trophy titles for Bengal.

Such was Goswami’s star power that stories abound in the Kolkata Maidan of a section of the crowd leaving the Mohun Bagan ground, forsaking a league match of their favourite club, to see him turn out in an office league game. This when Goswami had long retired from football.

“Chuni had good looks and exuded star appeal. He was different: a sportsman who would buy books of PG Wodehouse and Somerset Maugham to get through long train journeys. He had a great sense of humour and a never-say-die attitude,” said Raju Mukherjee, the former Bengal cricket captain who played under Goswami.

Goswami was also adept at tennis and was a regular on the South Club courts and those of the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club till the turn of the century. He also played a mean hand at carrom, the board game.

But if there was one sport Goswami aced after football, it was cricket. Goswami first played for Bengal in 1962. His taking on the fiery Roy Gilchrist, who was representing Hyderabad, and scoring over 40 as a middle-order batsman is still talked about in Bengal. When he was still ruling the club football scene in India, Goswami’s in-swingers helped a combined Central and East Zone team beat Gary Sobers’ West Indies.

Goswami took cricket more seriously after his football career. He played 46 first-class matches as an all-rounder. He led Bengal to two Ranji Trophy finals.

“He never bothered looking at the pitch, saying it would be the same for 22 players. Once, a player complained about the sight-screen and Goswami said, ‘focus on the ball and not the screen. Did you have a screen when you played cricket in the city’s bylanes?’,” said Mukherjee.

“His will to fight was infectious and we learnt so much about fitness from him,” said former India left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi who also played for Bengal under Goswami.

Born in Kishoreganj, now in Bangladesh, Subimal ‘Chuni’ Goswami caught the eye of BD Chatterjee who groomed him and got him into Mohun Bagan.

Goswami worked in a nationalised bank and was the first director of the Tata Football Aacdemy in Jamshedpur, a post he held from 1986-90. He won the Arjuna award in 1963 --- one year after Balaram and two after Banerjee --- and the Padma Shri in 1983. He was given the Mohun Bagan Ratna, an award initiated by the club in 2001 to honour club legends, in 2005, the same year he was made Sheriff of Kolkata. The Postal Department issued a stamp in his honour on January 15, his birthday, this year.


    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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