AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE
Baichung Bhutia, who kindled the glimmer of football in India has his own squad off-field who nudged him to accrue the privilege of being called the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’. And there’s no wonder that he stood up to this label. Three-time Indian Player of the Year I. M. Vijayan narrated Bhutia as “God’s gift to Indian football”.
Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and IM Vijayan can be regarded as India’s best three forwards since the 1990s.
Born on December 15, 1976, in Tinkitam, Sikkim, to two farmers, from a young age Baichung Bhutia has always loved sports. His devotion for football was dubious for his parents but he received immense inspiration from his uncle, to thrive in sports. Being endowed from a young age, it was Baichung’s diligence which led to his triumph in Indian sports.
Drilling round the clock, practice seemed the way to a dream and at a tender age of nine Baichung won a football scholarship from the Sports Authority of India to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok. This was the beginning for Baichung Bhutia, and this academy offered him a platform to play for many schools and local clubs. Baichung Bhutia achieved the ‘Best Player’ in the 1992 Subroto Cup and garnered accolades from Bhaskar Ganguly, the words of appreciation for 16-year-old Baichung reached the ears of Shyamal Ghosh who at the time was the coach of East Bengal. A few weeks later, Bhutia was on trial at one of Kolkata’s biggest clubs.
Baichung Bhutia honored with Padma Shri by Former President of India- Pratibha Patil.
Baichung Bhutia scored his first hat-trick in 1997, and later embarked on a leadership role as the East Bengal Club’s captain in the 1998-1999 season. For his remarkable contribution to football, government of India honored Baichung with the Arjuna Award in 1999.
Over the years, Baichung Bhutia played for international teams, but eventually returned to India, and received the Padma Shri award in 2008 for his extraordinary benefaction to Indian football.
Baichung initiative for the people of Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong amidst corona virus outbreak.
Apart from being a fantastic footballer, Baichung Bhutia is also a terrific philanthropist. In 2011, he volunteered in the funding for the earthquake victims in Sikkim. Not to forget the corona virus outbreak, and Baichung’s initiative towards people as he offered his Gangtok house as a shelter for migrant workers.
It wasn’t always a walk in the park for Baichung. He was on the verge of international retirement in 2006 after India’s string of poor results, only to change his mind thanks to a plea by his new coach, Bob Houghton. It’s not a mystery what transpired after 2006. It’s written across the record books, in fact.
From a remote hamlet in Sikkim, Baichung’s sheer brilliance propelled him to the pinnacle of accomplishment. He’s done it all, from becoming the second Indian soccer player to playing professionally in Europe to donning the Indian soccer team’s captain’s jersey. A true pride to Sikkim.