“Financial constraints and staying away from the maidan crushed his spirit” - Former players mourn Subhas Bhowmick’s death

Subhas Bhowmick once called up Sir Alex Ferguson to gain his insights on coaching!
Subhas Bhowmick once called up Sir Alex Ferguson to gain his insights on coaching!

Indian football legend Subhas Bhowmick (71) breathed his last in the wee hours of Saturday in Kolkata. The celebrated footballer-turned-manager, who had been suffering from diabetes and renal ailments for a long time, died of a heart attack due to COVID-19 complications at a city hospital. Bhowmick is survived by his wife, son, and daughter. His last rites were performed at the Nimtala Burning Ghat on Saturday afternoon.

Blessed with lightning pace and sharpshooting skills, Bhowmick proved his class for the “big two” of Kolkata maidan – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan – during his decade-long playing career. The flamboyant footballer was equally adept at playing as a right-winger and a striker. His brute force struck fear into rival defenders and earned him the sobriquet of “Bulldozer”.

Fondly called “Bhombol da”, Bhowmick joined East Bengal in 1969, at the age of 19. A year later, he jumped ship to Mohun Bagan and played for them with great aplomb between 1970 and 1973. In fact, he scored 27 goals in his maiden season with the Mariners and helped his side clinch three consecutive Rovers Cup titles.

A prolific scorer, Bhowmick amassed 84 and 82 goals from his multiple stints at Mohun Bagan and East Bengal respectively. He also scored nine times in his 24 appearances for the Indian national team, including a hat-trick against the Philippines in the Merdeka Cup in 1971.

The muscular forward featured in East Bengal’s iconic 5-0 drubbing of Mohun Bagan in the 1975 IFA Shield final and helped the club win the Calcutta Football League in 1973, 1974, and 1975, the IFA Shield in 1973, 1974, and 1975, the Rovers Cup in 1969 and 1973, the DCM Trophy in 1973 and 1974, and the Bordoloi Trophy in 1973.

Subhas Bhowmick in his peak form. Image: SC East Bengal
Subhas Bhowmick in his peak form. Image: SC East Bengal

An injury suffered in a Merdeka Cup match against the Philippines prompted Mohun Bagan officials to release Bhowmick in 1973. However, he returned to the Green and Maroon camp at the end of the 1975 season and combined with legendary Indian coach and his “guru” P.K. Banerjee to assemble a strong Mohun Bagan team.

He starred for the Mariners in the 1976 edition of the CFL by scoring 18 goals and was instrumental in their triple crown (IFA Shield, Rovers Cup and Durand Cup) win the following year.

After hanging up his boots in 1979, Bhowmick followed in P.K. Banerjee’s footsteps by quickly switching to coaching. A great admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, the veteran footballer preferred calling himself a “manager” rather than a “coach”. Famous (and also infamous) for his in-your-face attitude, Bhowmick had the distinction of managing the three Kolkata giants – East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting Club – during his resplendent managerial career.

As manager, Bhowmick achieved maximum success with East Bengal, whom he led to numerous titles, including two on the international front - the ASEAN cup in 2003 and the San Miguel International Cup in 2004. The defining moment of his managerial career has to be East Bengal’s historic ASEAN Cup victory in Jakarta. Defying all odds, the Red and Gold Brigade defeated Thai heavyweights BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the final to become the first Indian club to win the tournament.

Going against the grain, Bhowmick instilled a sense of professionalism in the club back then by convincing the officials to keep the team at a five-star hotel during their month-long pre-season and changing the players’ diet and training methods. The former Indian international also guided East Bengal to consecutive National Football League titles in 2002-03 and 2003-04 before the start of the 101-year-old club’s trophy drought in India’s top-flight football.

As technical director, Bhowmick was the main strategist in the Goan outfit Churchill Brothers’ triumphant I-League campaign in 2012-13. He also managed the Indian national team for a brief spell upon former AIFF president Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi’s insistence.

Former teammates, students and friends remember their beloved Bhowmick da/sir

Tributes poured in from all quarters on Saturday after news of Subhas Bhowmick’s death was made public. From West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee to Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri, many luminaries took to social media to express their condolences.

Despite the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state at present, several West Bengal cabinet ministers, representatives from the three Kolkata giants and some of Bhowmick’s former students visited the hospital in South Kolkata to catch one last glimpse of their beloved “Bhombol da”.

Sportskeeda spoke to a few distinguished men who knew Subhas Bhowmick quite well. Here’s what they had to say.

“Bhombol da was mentally depressed, he felt the Kolkata clubs had stopped caring for him” – Subrata Bhattacharya

Subrata Bhattacharya, himself a successful footballer-turned-coach, threw light on Subhas Bhowmick’s headstrong temperament. The legendary Mohun Bagan defender said:

“Bhombol da would only talk with me on the phone at the last stage of his life. We used to work together for Central Excise. I had told him many times not to leave Mohun Bagan in 1978, but did he listen?”

The former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal coach also lamented the Kolkata clubs’ apathy towards his late friend. An emotional Bhattacharya told Sportskeeda:

“He was a great player and coach, but he was an even greater human being. He certainly deserved the Dronacharya Award. Both Bhombol da and I have been neglected. When we have delivered so many trophies, why do you appoint foreign coaches?"

Bhattacharya continued:

“He spoke to me only twelve days back. He said that he was mentally depressed because the Kolkata clubs had stopped caring for him. He was desperate to return to the maidan. He was also facing financial hardships. I was supposed to visit him in the hospital on Saturday, but he didn’t allow me. When I die some days later, you should write that I was more successful than Bhombol da as a coach. Yes, you should! I’ll miss him every single day. I’m shattered.”

“I have had many good hours with Subhas Bhowmick” – Dilip Doshi

Former Indian Test cricketer Dilip Doshi has many friends in the Bengal sports fraternity. Subhas Bhowmick was one of them. When asked about his memories of the talismanic forward, the former left-arm spinner told Sportskeeda:

"I feel very saddened to hear about Subhas Bhowmick’s passing away. He was an asset to India and the Kolkata maidan in general. I have had many good hours with him over the years when I played across the maidans and for Bengal. My heartfelt condolences to his family and all the friends and fans as we will all miss him. May his noble soul rest in eternal peace.”

“Bhowmick is India’s second greatest winger after P.K. Banerjee” – Gautam Roy

If you’re an Indian football aficionado, you must have heard of Gautam Roy. Arguably India’s leading football statistician at the moment, Roy observed Subhas Bhowmick closely for several decades. He also worked as East Bengal’s media manager from 2011 to 2019.

Roy, who has documented East Bengal’s illustrious history in his book "East Bengal 100", said:

“In my opinion, Bhowmick is India’s second greatest winger after P.K. Banerjee. He used to play in the traditional 4-4-2 formation. Like P.K. Banerjee, Bhowmick could cut inside from the right-wing at great speed and possessed incredibly powerful legs. His man-management and game reading skills made him an extraordinary coach.”

“Bhowmick da deserved a lot more as a coach” – Shabbir Ali

There is a striking similarity between Subhas Bhowmick and Shabbir Ali. Goal machines in their prime, both went on to become successful coaches. Ali, in fact, had the opportunity to play alongside Bhowmick in 1979 for East Bengal. He lauded Bhowmick’s versatility and cited it as his key to success, saying:

“I’ve seen many wingers who can’t play as strikers and vice-versa, but Bhowmick da was different. He was excellent in both positions. I remember that during the season (1979) I scored 29 goals for East Bengal, Bhowmick da gave me a lot of assists. He didn’t play a lot for India though."

Ali, who was conferred with the Dhyan Chand Award in 2011, added:

“He deserved to win more awards as a coach. He was very friendly and we shared immense mutual respect for each other. We also discussed coaching whenever we met.”

“Bhowmick sir was my guardian” – Sayantan Das Roy

Former East Bengal footballer Sayantan Das Roy has spent a lot of time with Subhas Bhowmick discussing football and life over the past few years. Das Roy, who worked as a football analyst on a popular Bengali YouTube channel before becoming Mohammedan SC’s media manager last year, narrated how hopeless his “Bhowmick sir” felt in the final phase of his life:

“I spoke to him the day before I entered the Mohammedan bio-bubble for the I-League. He always replied to my messages, so when my message went unanswered on Friday, I had a premonition. The state government and the clubs wanted to help him, but it was too late."

Das Roy told Sportskeeda:

“His contribution to my professional career has been massive. He was the one who brought me to East Bengal a decade ago. He lost all his energy due to financial constraints. I was heartbroken when he asked me a month back, ‘Will you give me a kidney?’ Maybe he said it in jest, but I was ready to donate both my kidneys if the need arose. That’s how much I loved him. Hence, when I drafted my first press release for Mohammedan last year, I got it approved by him. He was always concerned about my career. I’ve lost my guardian.”

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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