Shyam Thapa interview Part I26-Jun, 2012
Former Mohun Bagan captain Shyam Thapa played for the Mariners from 1977 to 1983. He was a prolific goal scorer and helped Mohun Bagan win many trophies. He became the highest paid footballer in Indian football during his time, when he joined Mohun Bagan in 1977. In his very first year with the club, Mohun Bagan won the triple crown, as he scored in all three finals that year.
His goal off a bicycle kick, against East Bengal in a 1978 CFL derby, will remain as one of the best goals scored in Indian football, and Mohun Bagan supporters will always cherish this goal throughout their life. He also scored against Pele's Cosmos team at the Eden Gardens when he dribbled past legendary defender Carlos Alberto to score the goal. He scored a similar goal against East Bengal in the 1977 IFA Shield Final when he went past 2 defenders to score the only goal of the match. He was very successful during his seven year stint with Mohun Bagan and helped the Mariners win trophies galore. He became the captain of Mohun Bagan in 1982 and the Mariners won 4 trophies that season.
MMB: Tell us something about your early football days.
Shyam Thapa: I was born and brought up in Dehradun. Dehradun has always produced many good footballers who played with recognition in Indian football like Ram Bahadur.
In 1961, I played in the Subroto Mukherjee Cup for Gorkha Military School, Dehradun. I played really well in that tournament and scored a lot of goals.
MMB: When did you start playing professional football?
Shyam Thapa: In 1966, East Bengal came to play an exhibition match in Dehradun. My performance in that match got me an offer to play in Kolkata. However, the next year, I joined Gorkha Brigade and was highly successful there. Gorkha Brigade used to be one of the toughest sides in Durand Cup during that era. They won the title for the first time in 1966 and repeated the success again in 1969. I performed brilliantly in the 1969 final as we defeated BSF 1-0.
The next two seasons, I returned to play for East Bengal, before joining Mafatlal in 1972. I was the top scorer in the Calcutta Football League in 1971, scoring 14 goals for East Bengal.
After playing for Mafatlal till 1974, I came back to Calcutta and played for 2 years with East Bengal. Out of all these years, 1975 was a good year for me, performance wise. Then I joined Mohun Bagan in 1977.
Shyam Thapa signs for Mohun Bagan in 1977
MMB: There was big drama when you joined Mohun Bagan.
Shyam Thapa: (laughing) From my childhood, I always wished to play for both the big clubs of Kolkata. I decided to join Mohun Bagan in 1977. I was part of the Bengal team that was playing Santosh Trophy in Patna in 1976. I was the highest scorer of the tournament and I even scored in the final against Maharashtra which we won 1-0.
After the final, East Bengal officials were sitting in the hotel, hoping to extend my contract within their club, but I had already made up my mind to join Mohun Bagan. My roommate Pradip Chowdhury helped me a lot in joining Mohun Bagan. Next morning at around 4 a.m., I escaped from my hotel room through the bathroom window which was already broken. Since I could not go out through the main entrance of the hotel (because of East Bengal officials), I somehow managed to climb a big wall to reach the main road. There, one Mohun Bagan official "Raviya" was waiting for me in a car. He had been waiting for almost 7-8 hours. Remember, those days there were no mobile phones available.
From Patna, we went straight to Mugalsarai to catch a train. Then we went to my native place, Dehradun, but East Bengal officials came there, hunting for me with the advance money. My family members did not take the money and said that I was not there at home. We escaped from Dehradun and went to Mussourie. Few days later, we came to Kolkata and I got a grand reception at the Dum Dum Airport from Mohun Bagan officials and supporters. Manna da (Sailen Manna) arranged a police van for me.
I still remember the day I signed in favour of Mohun Bagan. There were around a thousand Mohun Bagan supporters standing outside cheering my name. At that time, I was the highest paid player in Indian football. The supporters actually went into a frenzy after I joined Mohun Bagan from East Bengal.
Shyam Thapa with Dhiren Dey and Jatin Chakraborty
MMB: How was the start to the season in 1977?
Shyam Thapa: Not at all good. Actually, the Mohun Bagan team that year was full of star players and coach P. K. Banerjee was initially finding it difficult to pick up the best 11 players. We lost the first derby match CFL by 2 goals. Those 1/1-2 months during which Calcutta Football League was going on, was one of the worst periods of my football career. For a few days after the derby match loss, we could not even practice at the Mohun Bagan ground. Even during the matches, supporters used to throw stones at us because they were very upset with the performance of the star-studded Mohun Bagan team.
Though we won the Bordoloi Trophy, the real turning point was the match against Cosmos. I remember I wrote an article in The Statesman whose heading was "Turning point in my career". Somehow, the minds of the supporters were diverted once the news came out that Pele was coming to play against Mohun Bagan and we got sufficient time to regroup ourselves.
MMB: Say something about that match.
Shyam Thapa: Frankly speaking, one of the reasons for my joining Mohun Bagan was that I heard they were trying to bring Pele that year to play a match against them. It was a memorable match for me, having got the opportunity to play against the King of Football, Pele. I scored a goal in that match. Getting a pass from Akbar, I body feinted past legendary defender Carlos Alberto and scored the goal. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
I would like to share another incident that took place during the match. Mohun Bagan was planning for a late replacement by bringing on Manas Bhattacharya in place of Subhash Bhowmick, but Subhash was not coming out, instead he was standing at the other side of the ground and Manas was so upset that he was crying. Seeing this, I went and asked our coach P. K. Banerjee to replace me so that Manas gets a chance to play. After the match, Manas came to me and thanked me for giving him a chance to play in the historic match.
Pele and Shyam Thapa
MMB: Mohun Bagan won a triple crown in 1977.
Shyam Thapa: As I said, after a rough start to the season, our fortunes turned from the match against Cosmos. My goal helped Mohun Bagan win the IFA Shield. In the final, I dribbled past 2 East Bengal defenders and foxed Bhaskar Ganguly with a delicate body feint to score the only goal of the match.
That year, we also won the Rovers Cup and Durand Cup. In the Rovers Cup semi final, I scored a brace against East Bengal as Mohun Bagan won the match 2-0. In the final, we defeated Tata Sports Club 2-1 where I scored 1 one of the goals.
In Durand Cup, we were supposed to play against East Bengal in the semi final, but East Bengal suddenly took their name off from the tournament and we defeated ITI in the semi final. In the final, we defeated JCT. The 1st day score in the final was leveled at 1-1 but the next day we defeated JCT 2-1. I again scored in the final match. In 1977, I had a unique record of scoring in all the final matches.
We completed our triple crown after winning the Durand Cup.
Click to read Part II of the interview.
Click to read Part III of the interview.
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