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'Watching Chuni Goswami play would gladden the heart'

Former India footballer Subimal "Chuni" Goswami, who captained the 1962 Asian Games gold medal-winning team, died on Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Here's how sportspersons paid tribute to Goswami, who also played first-class cricket for Bengal.

Franco Fortunato

Franco Fortunato played 25 times for India and was a member of the 1962 Asian Games gold medal-winning team.

I tell you -- when we had the team with Chuni, PK [Banerjee] and [Tulsidas] Balaram -- we just knew they could score at any moment. That kind of quality these guys had. What can you say -- this is all in God's hands.

He used to play for Mohun Bagan, and I used to play for Tata's. We often had some matches against each other in the Rovers Cup, and then again for the Nationals, we faced off with him for Bengal and me playing for Maharashtra. Often, we were in the Indian national team as well. We played at the Asian Games, the Olympics and the Merdeka Cup. I was also so close to him.

I tell you -- he was so good in every game that he played, that it is hard to identify one game and say, 'this was Chuni's best game.' He was always outstanding, but if you press me, the match against South Korea in the Asian Games [the 1962 final, which India won] -- Chuni, PK and Balram were outstanding. It was impossible to pick one out of the three as the best Indian player. The way they kept the ball -- you could just say that any ball could end up in the back of their goal. He was brilliant also in the previous matches, against Japan, Thailand, [South] Vietnam. Outstanding.

He had superb ball control, and was equally good off either his right or left foot. He could shoot from just about anywhere -- he was a complete player, and looking at him play would gladden anybody's heart. Of course, playing at Tata's, we used to often run into cricketers as well, like Dilip Vengsarkar, and I often heard stories about his cricketing exploits from Bombay's Ranji Trophy players. They would often say that he could have been just as big in cricket as he went on to be in football, if he wanted. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to play cricket with or against him.

He was older to me by just a year or two. I think my entry into the Indian team was in 1959, for Asian Cup qualifying matches, and he had played one Merdeka tournament before that. We never got to share a room with him -- my room was always allotted with Balaram, because we looked alike, and Mr. Rahim [India coach SA Rahim] used to call us 'Original' and 'Duplicate'. Chuni and PK would always room together. We did spend a lot of time off the field -- he was a fine chap. He always had a joke and making fun of someone or the other. He was a natural charmer.

PK first and then Chuni -- this is so heartbreaking. I will miss him so much. Now, instead of one peg, I will need three tonight.

(As told to Debayan Sen)

Bhaichung Bhutia

Former India captain, Bhutia turned out for India 107 times, and has represented JCT, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in domestic football.

It's a big loss within a span of two months -- PK and now Chuni. With Chuni da, I didn't have a lot of interactions, because he did not spend that much time at the maidan, but we had a good time speaking with him when he had gone with the Indian team on a tour to England in 2000. I was already there [in England] at the time, and I also met him a couple of times when I was playing for Mohun Bagan -- he was an official there.

A thorough gentleman, he was always jovial and cheerful. He carried himself with grace, and was always particular about his presentation and how smart he looked. Chuni da, maybe because he was never into coaching or anything like that, would always be found happy and with a smile on his face.

On that England tour, he was very encouraging. We had a tough tour, playing a number of difficult teams, but Chuni da was always supportive of the entire team. Unfortunately, we have not been able to see any of his videos, so we have no idea of how good he was as a player, but we have heard so much about him. I come from a generation where our fathers would only know two names in terms of the brand of Indian football -- PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami. They were the biggest icons, and you can imagine how big they must have been in those days. Indian football is poorer for this double loss, but you anyway cannot talk of Indian football without taking these names together. When you speak of Indian football, the names of PK and Chuni are synonymous.

(As told to Debayan Sen)

Subrata Bhattacharya

Subrata Bhattacharya was a defender with the Indian national team, and represented Mohun Bagan between 1974 and 1990. He had a successful stint as coach of Bagan, winning the National Football League in 2000 and 2002.

Everybody in India knows him to be an adept footballer, perhaps one of the greatest ever, but he was also excellent at spotting young talent. He could take a look at a junior player, and push him through the ranks at Mohun Bagan just by looking at the basic traits of that footballer. The club owes a lot to his foresight in that regard.

I was one of the beneficiaries of that, when I went into the Bagan setup in 1974, at the age of 21. Chuni Goswami was one of the best footballers India has produced, and such talents don't come by often. Chuni, PK, Balaram, Arun Ghosh -- India has never produced footballers of that class, and probably won't. I had gone to meet Chuni da a few days ago, and this sudden loss has taken me by surprise. It is a pretty big shock for all of us.

If I have achieved anything in my life and career, I have to credit Chuni da for a lot of things. He helped me get into the club, encouraged me as a player, and he also helped me get my job by taking me to the Central Excise and State Bank offices with him. I owe my prestige as a footballer to him, which is why today is such a sad day. There's no way to also go out of the house, which makes it worse. Once in 1985, he was in charge of the Bagan team for a brief while, and we had a bad result against East Bengal. But he kept supporting us and kept us strong mentally. We ended up winning four trophies subsequently. He was just a multi-faceted sportsperson, and I don't know if we will see the likes of him again. Going back to the past, there were very few players of the highest quality, and he would always be counted in that handful.

This leaves a gaping hole in Indian football. I think it is natural that the enthusiasm for the game will subside a bit when legends like PK or Chuni leave us behind.

(As told to Debayan Sen)

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