The word legend in football these days is thrown around like a ragged doll. Legend is a word that in my opinion is earned, and not given; a brooch of commemoration that is bestowed not only because of someone’s sheer brilliance on the field but also a recognition of the unwavering legacy that one leaves behind through years of adulation and accomplishments. Even when their boots are no longer able to leave a trail of dust abaft, the glint of magic that they left behind in the hearts of their witnesses still lives in a glorious blithe.
If this is the the definition of a legend that we can agree upon, Subimal “Chuni” Goswami is a legend in every sense of it. His name is an instant reminder of Indian football in its glory days; a time when the name “India” on the schedule list used to send shivers down opponents’ spine in the Asian footballing scene, when teams around the world stood up and took notice of a team that was “not supposed to be this good”.
Born on the 15th day of January, 1938 in the Kishoreganj district of undivided Bengal(now in Bangladesh), like most Bengalis, Goswami’s introduction to the game came through “para football”(street football). Once in Kolkata, his talent was spotted on the patchy turfs of South Kolkata’s Deshapriya Park by late Mr. Balaidas Chatterjee, and then the romance began. In 1946, at only 8 years of age, Chuni Goswami was absorbed into the Mohun Bagan junior team. Goswami would get his first go in the senior team in 1954 and go on to spend the rest of his career in the green and maroon of Mohun Bagan until his retirement in 1968. Growing up in a Mohun Bagan family, listening to the fables of the historical victory of Mohun Bagan against East Yorkshire Regiment in the 1911 IFA Shield final and looking up to the greats like Gostho Paul and Umapati Kumar, the match seemed to be one made in heaven.
In his days at India’s national club, Goswami would build up the reputation of being one the best inside-forwards that the country had ever produced. With Goswami as the bedrock of the the team, Bagan enjoyed one of the most glorious periods in the team’s illustrious history.
His neat dribbling skills coupled with a keen eye for goal left defenders in awe and the Bagan fanatics in a frenzy. The 360 degree turn would be his chosen weapon to hit opposing team with, time and again. Goswami would go on to lead the Mariners for five consecutive seasons between 1960 and 1964. In the 15 years that he spent in Mohun Bagan, they would go on to win 10 Calcutta league titles and reach 7 Durand cup finals, of which, they won 6, with Goswami leading the team on 5 occasions. With the lack of a national league at that time, it’s only left to one’s imagination to perceive how successful that Bagan team would have been.
Goswami’s success was not limited to the domestic scene. Alongside Tulsidas Balaram, Jarnail Singh and P.K. Banerjee, the quartet formed the core of an Indian side that would go on to win the Asian Games Gold Medal in 1962 and a Silver in the 1964 Asia Cup in Tel Aviv as well as in the Merdeka Cup. It was under Goswami’s captaincy that Indian football would have its finest hour till date in the 1962 Asian Games.
The triumph of Chuni and his team in 1962 couldn’t be undermined in any sense of the word. India stood against a bloc formed by Asia’s Islamic nations, including Indonesia(the host of the 1962 Asian games), who stood unified in their protest against Israel to keep the Middle East Jewish country out of the Asian Games, as India deemed the demands to be against the Olympic charter. The IOC had later reconciled by placing Israel in Europe, setting aside geographical considerations. However, the team would have to come under intense pressure and hostility from the crowd for India’s pro-Israel stance.
Far from being daunted, Chuni led his men to glory and his leadership skills showed the traits of a man of calibre and character. Goswami’s performance formed a critical part of the side’s success and his performances wouldn’t go unnoticed as he would be duly honoured by being named the best striker in Asia in 1962. The following year led to more accolades for the mercurial talent as he was bestowed with the Arjuna award in 1963.
The versatile Goswami would go on to lead Bengal in the Ranji trophy while also pulling the green and maroon on the Hockey field for Mohun Bagan. But his legacy would remain of being one the best footballers, let alone forwards, that this country has ever produced. A talent that would refuse a chance of joining Tottenham Hotspur in England as he “enjoyed being a big star in India”.
Two decades later in 1983, he would be honoured with the Padma Shri award and later on celebrated as a Mohun Bagan “ratna” in 2005.
The small boy from Kishoreganj became a cult hero in the green and maroon of Mohun Bagan and then a national superstar as he traded effortlessly in goals, a commodity which makes footballers worshipped all over the world. He was the man who led India against all odds to that precious gold medal in Jakarta; a flamboyant footballer who epitomised the spirit of a new India and brought the genuine pride of a true winner to the field which made the nation proud.