In a country where cricket has often sounded the death knell for other sports, especially football, there was once a sportsman good enough to demolish a Gary Sobers led West Indian side in a first class match while still representing Mohun Bagan at football. Rare is an Indian sportsperson who could play two popular sports at the highest level but then, Chuni Goswami was unlike anyone else our ecosystem has thrown up over the years.
In football lay his greater talent though and he was a forward blessed with speed, balance, control and an admirable passing range. It was his dribbling skills, however, that set him apart from other forwards in his era. Popular legend has it that he could dribble as well as Ronaldinho or any other Brazilian maestro.
A one club man who started his career at Mohun Bagan as a nine year old, he first played for the senior side in 1954. While he missed making the cut for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, his performances for Bagan meant that he could not be ignored much longer and he made his India bow in 1958. By 1962, he was captain of the legendary side that would win Asian Games gold at Jakarta.
This is about when Tottenham Hotspur came calling with an offer to train with them. At that time, they were the biggest club in London having won the league and cup double in the 1960-61 season under the legendary Bill Nicholson. Two years later, that side would become the first British team to win a European trophy when they beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the European Cup Winners Cup final.
The offer to train may not have translated into anything concrete anyway but Goswami declined it sharing in subsequent interviews that he had little information on British football and had no idea how big the club was. He last played for India in 1965 and spent another three years at Mohun Bagan before retiring in his prime at the age of 30.
In those times, the football season used to end with the Durand trophy in January and that allowed him to play for Bengal and East Zone in the Ranji and Duleep trophies respectively. While he made his first class debut in the 1962-63 season, retirement from international football and then the game altogether allowed him to focus solely on cricket till 1973. He captained Bengal to the 1971-72 Ranji Trophy final which was lost to Sunil Gavaskar’s Bombay.
He may have once taken eight wickets, including the prized scalp of the incomparable Rohan Kanhai, in the only match West Indies lost on the tour of 1966-67, but there is no doubting where his real achievements lie. On the football field, Subimal ‘Chuni’ Goswami was a colossus and one of the greatest footballers this country has ever produced.