Many called him an all-rounder—a player who could do everything whenever he took the field. But Subimal ‘Chuni’ Goswami was perhaps bigger than that. A former captain of the Indian national football team, Goswami, who died on 30 April in Kolkata, aged 82, was a complete player. For, not only was he a force on the football field, but also a fierce competitor on the cricket pitch later in his career.
A glowing star from the golden era of Indian sports, Goswami was born on 15 January, 1938, and went on to join Mohun Bagan’s junior team in 1946. He made his senior debut for the club in 1954. Finding one-club players in the world of football is a rare feat even today. Goswami was one of them, having spent his entire club career with Mohun Bagan, retiring only in 1968. As acclaimed Indian football expert and commentator Novy Kapadia wrote in his book Barefoot to Boots: The Many Lives of Indian Football, Goswami belonged to a golden period for the Mariners (a fond nickname for the club given by the fans) in the 1960s, where he was part of a squad that also included the likes of Jarnail Singh and T.A Rahman in defence, centre-forward Ashok Chatterjee and goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj.
"Fans loved him"
But what made Goswami different? As a player he was renowned for his entertaining football. “His superb speed with the ball, excellent trapping and shrewd passing had made him a household name, but it was his dazzling dribbling and body swerves that ultimately set him apart from the other greats of his era," Kapadia recalls in his book.
At the prime of his career, Goswami even said no to a trial with Tottenham Hotspur, which, Kapadia writes, was probably the biggest club in England in the 60s under the management of legendary coach Bill Nicholson. In a 2012 interview to the Telegraph, Goswami recalled there was too much uncertainty in a career abroad. Besides, he was captaining Mohun Bagan, when Spurs had come calling, had a “stable job" and the “fans loved him". There’s not much else a footballer wanted back in the day. According to the official website of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Goswami scored 200 goals for Mohun Bagan and won 14 trophies for the club as their captain. For his performances and contribution to the sport, which included representing India in the Olympics and the Asia Cup, Goswami was also awarded the Arjuna Award in 1963 and the Padma Shri in 1983.
A complete package
However, Goswami’s greatest triumph as a player was and shall always be captaining India to a gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games, where they defeated South Korea in the final. That fearsome Indian forward line of Goswami and legendary strikers Tulsidas Balaram and P.K. Banerjee remains unmatchable till date. In a recent despatch to the AIFF, Goswami’s former team-mate Franco Fortunato described him as the complete package who performed the captain’s role during the 1962 Asian Games triumph to perfection.
Life after football
His flair and perfection were not limited to the football field. After hanging up his boots, Goswami picked up the cricket bat and represented Bengal, leading them to the Ranji Trophy final in 1971/72. His cricket career ended at 46 First Class matches with a haul of 1592 runs and 47 wickets. While many point to the fact that he only embarked on his cricketing career after his retirement from football, it is imperative to remember that very few athletes end up playing multiple sporting disciplines at the highest level. Goswami was one of those rare athletes.
In a 2012 interview with the AIFF, Goswami was asked where he saw Indian football in 2020 and the near future. “The sport is all about a generation. Tomorrow we may be blessed with a new generation of five-six outstanding players and Indian football would jump among the best in Asia… A new generation needs to fill in the boots of the yesteryears," he said.
Football has always been about heeding advice from exponents of a certain philosophy. Johan Cryuff reinvented the modern game with "total football". Many footballing nations and clubs transformed their fortunes after being influenced by Cryuff’s philosophy. It’s time Indian football remembered and acted on Goswami’s words too.