PARTAB RAMCHAND | 9 MAY, 2020
Chuni Goswami (1938-2020)- Indian Football’s ‘Golden Boy’
Down Memory Lane
As a teenage sports fan in the early and mid sixties I had three heroes – cricketer Polly Umrigar, tennis player Ramanathan Krishnan and footballer Chuni Goswami. And the sporting memories I cherished most involved the trio. I was glad when Umrigar scored a century and took five wickets in an innings in a Test match in the West Indies in 1962 – a heroic display albeit in a losing cause. I was overjoyed when Krishnan piloted India into the Challenge Round in 1966. And I was absolutely delighted when India won the gold medal in football at the Asian Games at Jakarta in 1962 with Goswami as the victorious captain.
Indian football these days is not a force to reckon with even in Asia, let alone the world but some 60 years ago the sport was at its zenith and India were one of the strongest teams in Asia. And the bright spark was provided by Chuni Goswami who along with PK Banerjee and Tulsiram Balaram formed the troika that symbolized all that was best in Indian football.
Among the three Goswami was my personal favourite so much so that when I heard of his death at the age of 82 on April 30 it came as a blow even if he was ailing for some time. That he should go so soon after PK passed away heightened the grief.
If PK Banerjee was for the masses, Goswami belonged to the classes. Indeed he was Indian football’s ``Golden Boy’’. He was the antithesis to the common perception about Indian sportsmen and their rags to riches story. He grew up in an upper middle class family, stayed in an affluent area and had his education at Calcutta University where he earned a Blue in both cricket and football.
Goswami who was honoured with the Arjuna award in 1963 and the Padma Shri in 1983 exuded charm and glamour in a people’s sport. He was everything that any budding sportsperson would aspire to be. He had the talent that made him probably India’s greatest all round footballer. Indeed his popularity transcended football and at his peak in the early 60s he was among India’s biggest sporting icons.
Standing almost six feet tall with a lithe body, Goswami was the last gold medal winning Indian football skipper (at the Asian Games at Jakarta in 1962), an Olympian (Rome 1960) and a capable first-class cricket captain, who finds a mention in Gary Sobers' memoir.
At his peak he was a dashing centre forward who had an immaculate positioning sense. His ball control, his dribbling which was a treat to watch and his sudden sprints which caught the defence off guard made him an opponent to be respected, even feared. PK paid him this tribute many times: ``My friend Chuni has everything – sharp shooting, immaculate dribbling, a powerful head, sprinting and perfect positional sense.’’
PK and Goswami were an inseparable on field pair yet so different from each other. With his good looks allied to his footballing skills Goswami was a crowd-puller in Mumbai during the Rovers Cup for Mohun Bagan, a club which meant everything to him till his last day. He joined it as a 16-year-old and remained with the premier club forever. Such was his devotion that he even played his club cricket only for Mohun Bagan.
Cricket in fact was his other passion and after he quit football he concentrated on it and finished with an admirable record. In a decade along career that commenced in 1962-63 he played 46 first class matches, scoring almost 1600 runs with one century and picked up 47 wickets at an average of 24 with his medium pacers. He also captained Bengal in the Ranji Trophy final in 1971-72 when they went down to Bombay. He also represented East zone in the Duleep Trophy.
Goswami’s finest hour on the cricketing field came when representing a combined East and Central zone side that played the visiting West Indians at Indore in December 1966. Even without skipper Gary Sobers, Basil Butcher, Conrad Hunte and Lance Gibbs the visitors were a pretty strong side with the likes of Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lester King, Seymour Nurse and Jackie Hendricks around. But the home side registered an astonishing victory in virtually two days dismissing the tourists for 136 and 103, scoring 283 for nine and winning by an innings and 44 runs. The architects of this sensational upset were the duo of Goswami and Subroto Guha, then an upcoming medium pace bowler. While Guha had a match haul of 11 for 113 Goswami finished with eight for 97. He also took a breath taking catch to end the match early on the third morning, an effort that earned plaudits from Sobers who termed it as ``exceptional’’ while mentioning Goswami in his autobiography.
Goswami however downplayed that catch for which he had to back pedal about 20 yards. "Sobers didn't know I was an international footballer. Back-pedaling 20 yards is no big deal," he would jokingly tell friends.