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Sikkimese Sniper Bhaichung Bhutia turns 47. A look at the footballer’s life on field, in the field of politics and more

First Published: 15th December, 2023 17:20 IST

Bhutia holds the record of scoring 40 goals in 104 international appearances

Flagbearer of Indian football, Sikkim’s pride, Bhaichung Bhutia turned 47 today. Fondly referred to as the Sikkimese Sniper because of his powerful shooting skills in the field, Bhutia was born into an agricultural family in Tinkitam village in Sikkim.

His parents were initially not too keen to encourage Bhutia’s interest in sports but through encouragement from his uncle Karma Bhutia, Bhaichung was able to pursue his passion and become one of the most well-known footballers in India.

At the age of 9, he won a football scholarship from Sports Authority of India (SAI) to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok. After playing for various local clubs in Gangtok, Bhutia left school to join his first professional club East Bengal FC in Kolkata.

A national call-up was not too far off as his dazzling displays at club level caught the eye of national selectors and he received his first international call-up on March 10, 1995 against Thailand in Nehru Cup.

His prodigious talent was on full display at the national level and he became the youngest international goal-scorer for India when he found the back of the net at the age of 18 years and 90 days.

He became the first Indian to sign a contract with a European club when he joined English club Bury FC in 1999. His European adventure however, was not smooth as he had unsuccessful trials at Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa.

Bhutia returned to India in 2002 and played for Mohun Bagan for a year. His year at Mohun Bagan was plagued by injuries and he returned to his first club East Bengal and helped them win the ASEAN Club Championship.

He announced his retirement from the international arena on August 24, 2011 holding a record of 40 goals in 104 appearances.

A farewell match was held for him against German giants Bayern Munich, although the match ended 4-0 in favour of the Germans, the fact that such an illustrious club came to honour Bhutia’s carrier spoke volumes of the legacy he left behind.

The Sikkimese government has built a stadium, the Bhaichung Stadium in Namchi, the district headquarters, in honour of this football legend from the state.

In his life off the field, Bhutia married Madhuri Tipnis, a hotel professional on December 30, 2004 in his native village of Tinkitam. The marriage was not to last too long as the couple divorced by mutual consent in 2015. He has three children Ugen Kalzang, Keisha Dolkar Bhutia and Samara Dechen Bhutia.

Bhaichung also jumped into the world of politics when he joined the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2014 and contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as the TMC candidate from Darjeeling constituency. He lost the polls.

He formed his own party “Hamro Sikkim Party” in 2018. This year in November, Bhutia merged his party with the Sikkim Democratic Front.

In a sport where India has underachieved, considering the passion of Indian people for football, athletes such as Bhaichung Bhutia serves as an example of what the country can achieve if it manages to tap into the abundance of talent which it possesses.

Also Read: Sikkim: CAP calls CM Tamang-led delegation’s visit to Delhi seeking tribal status ‘drama’

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