Apart from religion, if there’s one thing that plays with the emotions of a billion Indians all at once, it is sports. The satisfying feeling of watching your favourite player having a good day on the field or the adrenaline rush of a nail-biting finish can seldom be replaced by any other feeling. The roller-coaster of emotions one goes through during victories and loses in the game is stupefying. For a long time, Cricket has been playing with our heart-strings, but this attention is getting divided by an array of other upcoming sports, Football being at the forefront.
Baichung Bhutia has taken Football to the cricket-watching Indian households. In fact, he is literally the first popular household name one can remember in Football. He relentlessly pursued his passion to bring Indian Football to the common man way before it became cool or mainstream. With him started an era of local Football fandom in India. His story off the field is as inspiring as his magic on the field.
Born on 15th December 1976 from Tinkitam, Sikkim, he was inclined towards sports from a very young age. Badminton, Athletics, Basketball, and of course Football is what he grew up playing. While his parents dismissed his growing passion as pass-time playing, his uncle motivated him to take his sports seriously. Along with incredible talent, Baichung Bhutia was also gifted with hard work and determination. He put his blood and sweat into the game and won a scholarship from the Sports Ministry of India at a young age of nine to get admitted in the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok.
The academy greatly helped in polishing Bhutia’s talent, and he got a chance to play for various local clubs and schools. In the 1992 Subroto Cup, Baichung was honoured with the “Best Player” award by Bhaskar Ganguly, the former Indian Goalkeeper. Bhaskar realized Baichung’s rare gift of Football and mentored him to better his skills. He also played a crucial role in training Baichung to make an entry into the East Bengal Club in Calcutta. After playing there for two years, he was transferred to another club, JCT Mills. Baichung Bhutia went under rigorous training, and it showed on the field. JCT Mills won the India National Football League in 1996-1997 season. The tournament highlighted Baichung’s remarkable striking abilities, that helped him play in the Nehru Club in 1996, where he was titled as “Indian Player of the Year”.
Baichung Bhutia, solely on the basis of his hard work and determination continued to pursue his passion. In 1997, he scored his first hat trick and was entrusted with the responsibility of Captainship of the East Bengal Club for the 1998-1999 season. For his phenomenal contribution to the Indian Football, he was conferred with the Arjuna award by the Government of India in 1999. Over the years, Baichung also got numerous chances to play for overseas Football teams, however, his heart always resided in making Football popular in India. Hence, he returned to India to open his “Baichung Bhutia Football Schools” in New Delhi so that he can mentor young talent to represent India in International Football arena. He was honoured with the Padma Shri award in 2008 for his outstanding contribution to Indian Football.
Apart from being a legend in Football, he is also a humanitarian who helped raise funds for the victims of the Sikkim earthquake in 2011. Since his playing days, India has come a long way in encouraging Football. However, his contribution to the game is unparalleled. He played at a time when Cricket fever in India was at its peak. He became a shining example of how one must stay true to his passion, and not wait for public acknowledgement, for it is no validation. One’s true validation is the happiness one receives while working hard. He has inspired millions to take up sports as a career, and fight against the odds to realize their dreams. India will always be indebted to Baichung Bhutia for concreting the hold of Football in India. It is rightly said,
Baichung Bhutia is the gift of God to Indian Football!