July 13 1997: Bhaichung Bhutia’s historic leap towards greatness
The Indian Express used the headline ‘Bhutia’s barrage batters Bagan’ and rightly so. It was the perfect response from the Sikkimese striker to Dutta’s pre-match taunts. But what was even more fascinating was the way Bhaichung carried himself and spoke after the match.
Naturally, back then Bhaichung didn’t completely realise what he had achieved but post-match he exhibited a maturity and professionalism that was unimaginable from any young Indian sportsperson during those times considering the limited media exposure.
Throwing light on the same, Sarkar revealed, “For me, what stood out even more than Bhaichung’s performance – Chima Okorie who scored that match’s best goal was effusive in his praise of Bhutia soon after – was the calm with which Bhutia ripped into Dutta after the game. He spoke to the media in the showers of East Bengal’s dressing room, so chaotic was the scene inside that Bhutia took everybody into the bathing area.
“Sitting there, still sweaty, Bhutia said it was extremely disappointing that a man older than his father and a respected coach had stooped so low. I don’t remember if Dutta was ever ripped into thus. That evening Bhutia showed he wasn’t just electric on the field.”
The anecdote above shows why Bhaichung became what he is today and the player has always believed that one match doesn’t make or break a career.
“It was a great feeling to score a hattrick on such a big occasion and it’s true that it gave me a lot of media attention but I had to work even harder after that. For me you are only as good as your last game so I had to start from scratch again from the next match,” said India’s most capped player.
From the humble beginnings of Sikkim to being India captain and Indian football icon, it has been a long and yet successful journey for the Padma Shree Awardee. July 13 1997 would be remembered as the day when he took a historic leap towards greatness and in his own ‘Bhaichung-esque’ way.