At the time of this article going to press, the six previous weeks have been one of tragedy, tragedy and tragedy. One small virus seems to have shattered the pride of the generation; a generation that took pride in so many scientific advancements and worse still is the fact that the end of this tragic trail still seems to be illusive and beyond comprehension. While the loss of lives of nearly a million people around the world is a general tragedy, back home in India though not attributable to the wicked Corona virus, we had two deaths in Bollywood and even the sports world was not spared when the heavens recalled two famous sports personalities of yesteryears — P. K. Banerjee and Sabimal Goswami; the latter better known to his fans as Chuni Goswami.
Born on 15 January 1938 at Kishoreganj, in what then was known as Bengal Presidency, Chuni Goswami matured to be a complete sportsman. I use the term ‘complete sportsman’ not only because he was an international footballer of repute but also a national level cricketer who in terms of the statistics has to be described and accepted as an all-rounder.
Chuni joined the junior team of Mohun Bagan as an eight-year-old boy in 1946, and such remained his allegiance to his club that he never played for any other club in his entire career despite being sought after by a number of them with lucrative offers. Playing as a striker, Chuni captained not only his club but also India’s national team. When the Indian football team participated in the 1960 Rome Olympics under the leadership of P. K. Banerjee, Chuni was one of the team members. Although the team returned without a victory in any of its three group matches, the team’s only glorious moment was in holding France to a 1-1 draw.
1960 was a miserable year for Indian football. In the AFC Asia Cup qualification rounds, India finished last. However, two years later, under the leadership of Chuni Goswami, India won the football gold medal at the Asian Games, defeating South Korea 2-1 in the final match.
For the 1964 Asia Cup, India qualified in the strangest manner because all the other teams in its qualification round withdrew. However, the Indian team left a mark by finishing as the runners up in the tournament. The golden period of Indian football came to an end in 1964. The golden period of Indian football was so largely because of its three frontline strikers, P. K. Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram and Chuni Goswami; referred frequently as the Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh of Indian football.
Chuni had modelled his playing techniques watching his idol Ahmed Khan who used to play for East Bengal. It is rightly observed about Chuni that “at his prime in 1960-64, his balance, silky dribbling skills, slick ball control and shrewd passing, made him a household name.” Chuni’s elevation to the senior team has an interesting history. He was only sixteen years old when two of Mohun Bagan’s forwards could not join the team, while there were other members who could have replaced these forwards, Chuni got the opportunity to enter the field because he was already wearing the club’s shirt. So from 1954 till his retirement from club football in 1968, Chuni continued to play for a single club and later even refused to be the coach of a foreign club.
Although, Chuni could not make it into the Indian team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, he captained his University team the same year to win the Inter University title, and the Bengal team to win the Santosh Trophy.
The Chuni Goswami story will remain incomplete without an allusion to his cricket achievements. After the end of each football season, Chuni used to represent Bengal in the Ranji Trophy and even played in two Ranji Trophy finals where the Bengal team lost to the Bombay team on both occasions. However, Chuni’s most glorious moment in cricket came when playing for the combined Central & Eastern Zone against the 1966-67 touring West Indies team; he captured a total of eight wickets and in combination with the pace of Subroto Guha was responsible for inflicting the only defeat that the otherwise invincible West Indies team suffered during the entire tour.
Chuni Goswami may not sound like a big name in the cricket world but statistically he has every right to be considered as a genuine all-rounder. Playing for Bengal from 1962 to 1973, he represented his State in 46 First Class matches, scoring 1592 runs at an average of 28.42 and capturing 47 wickets at 24.08 apiece. Having bowled just 2917 deliveries goes on to show that the pace of Chuni was used not more than 5 to 6 overs in any innings although his economy rate was as good as 2.33 runs an over.
With sports in India getting a great impetus with the introduction of various leagues that include international players and various disciplines emerging as money spinners, Indian football may see a surge that it may not have seen ever before but the legend of Chuni Goswami will always continue to find a place of distinction in the history of Indian football.