In conversation with former Indian team footballer and legendary striker Gilbertson Sangma.
By Aiyushman Dutta
The FIFA World Cup Football Tournament 2018 in Russia might have finally gotten over but the enthusiasm that has been created amongst football fans continues to soar greater heights. As we celebrate France’s victory in the World Cup and also the surprising rise of Croatia in the global football stage, we would like to go back in history and celebrate the exploits of one of our own sons of the soil.
We are talking about international-level football player and former Indian football team striker Gilbertson Sangma who has many exploits on the international football ground to his credit. The melange team recently met the star player at his residence in Guwahati to know more about his life and his journey in the world of football. Following are excerpts.
Q. The football World Cup finally got over and it seems you are a bit free from your hectic schedule over the past few days? How was the World Cup for you this year?
Ans: This year’s World cup was more or less very much similar to the previous years for me. People had different views on who would be the winners of the cup and in the end, some other country became the winner. Many peoples supported teams based on their individual choices and wanted them to win; while for some their chosen team won, for others they had to come back disappointed. For me, it is not different than what it was in the previous years.
For me, yes, this world cup was quite hectic because a number of news channels have come up in the State now. I had to go as a panellist for all their World Cup specials shows a number of times and this took up a lot of my time.
I had also gone to Karbi Anglong at the insistence of Mr. Putul Bora who had created a German stadium there. I am sure you must have heard of the news. Even though I supported his initiative, I did offer him some words of advice while coming back. I told him that while what he did was really commendable, he would have done better if he spent Rupees 5-6 lakhs of the total money he spent in building the stadium towards the cause of Karbi Anglong players. He could have created a football team out of local players since there are so many good football players in Karbi Anglong. This would have gone a long way in the future development of football in Karbi Anglong as well as the State.
Q, You have represented the Indian team and played outside the country and been part of so many prestigious formats of the game. Do you have any feelings of sadness for not being able to be part of the World Cup in your life?
Ans: A bit of sadness will obviously be there because as sportsperson, we always want to develop along with the best in the sport. In our case, we drastically needed a good team which could qualify for the world cup and unfortunately, that did not happen.
Q. The seventies were the prime time in your sporting career. Can you recount those days a bit for us?
Ans: I started playing Class 1 football tournaments during 1971-1972. Assam and its players were really at the top of the game during that point of time. I was also performing really well and was at the peak of my career. I got many offers from clubs like Mohan Bagan, Tata Sporting Club, Demco Club in Goa and even from Punjab and Bangkok. However, I did not take up any of those offers. I chose to remain back in Assam.
Q. Was there any specific reason why you chose not to take up those offers?
Ans: Well, since I was playing for Assam I did not want to move outside the State and represent another club. Also in those days, opportunities were not the same as it is today. Sportspersons or footballers nowadays get a lot of opportunities which we did not get. Suppose I had even taken up one of the offers of those club, the money offered was very less. For instance, most clubs would pay just around Rd 20,000 or so for an entire season. The scenario has changed for the better now and most players get much more lucrative deals.
Q. Coming back to our previous question, you played the Santosh trophy for many years…
Ans: It was in 1973 that I was selected in the final 11 team in the Santosh Trophy that was held in Goa. In that tournament, our first match was against Rajasthan which we won. It was really a memorable experience to be part of the team that defeated Rajasthan, which was as its peak during that time. We lost the second match against Bengal in that tournament and won the last match against Gujarat by a huge margin.
In 1974, I was selected for the Indian team which went to Tehran for the Asian Games. Accordingly, we went to Patiala, which was the hub of international-level sports training in the country, and spent around two months practicing for the tournament. However, I was placed as the 21st players of the team, which meant I was an extra. So while the team left, I had to stay back in the country.
Nonetheless, the same year, the Santosh Trophy was held at Jalandhar and we played against Kerala, who were the champions in that edition. We won our first game against Kerala and much have reached the quarterfinals stage of that trophy. Soon after that, I went to Mumbai to play in the Rover’s Cup. As to your question, I must have played in around 7-8 editions of the Santosh Trophy consecutively.
In 1975-76, I was selected to play for the Indian team and went for a tour of Indonesia and Malaysia as part of the team.
In 1976, there was a turning point in my life as I received an ankle injury. That was a turning point because the national team does not call injured players for trial matches of the team for a second time. Although I did not play for the Indian team, I still played in all the other major tournaments and league matches.
Q. Although you played a number of matches in the 80s, your ankle injury prevented you from getting another place in the Indian team. Do you have any regrets about that?
Ans: Yes, there is definitely a lot of regret. As strikers, whenever we go to play any tournament, the entire team depends on us. We are the gamemakers – we have to play and at the same time make others play as well. So for sportsmen like us, injuries are inevitable; they are bound to happen. The injury was really unlucky but I kept playing. However, nowadays I increasingly think as to why tournaments like the ISL was not held during our time? I seriously regret missing the ISL. Anyway, in 1986 I hung up my boots after playing professional football continuously for 15 years.
Q. Where were you born? How did you develop an interest in football?
Ans: I was born in Dibrugarh. My father late S Momin was an Inspector in the Assam Police. I have four other brothers and two siblings. I guess the love for football was ingrained in our beings. From my childhood, I had a deep passion for football and other sporting activities although I could never really make it in academics.
Q. You have played for Assam Police your entire life. We heard that you joined Assam Police only to play football. Can you please recount the journey for us?
Ans: As I said, I loved playing football right from my childhood. Growing up in Dibrugarh, I used to see many Assam police personnel like Kamala Nath, Anil Rai, etc who used to come and play in tournaments. I was so inspired by them and wanted to play alongside with them. But in order to that, I needed to join the Assam Police. So in 1971, I packed my bags and landed up at the Dergaon Police Train Centre. I was very young then but somehow I managed to pass all the tests and joined the 1st APBN. I enjoyed my stint in Dergaon as there was no shortage of either playgrounds or sporting equipment. In 1972, I completed my training and passed out as a constable. That very year, I represented Assam Police at the All India East Zone Football Tournament held in Bengal. That was my first professional tournament as part of Assam Police. Since then, there has been no looking back for me.
Q. We have already discussed about your sporting career. Did your professional life as a policeman affect your career in any way?
Ans: No, it did not. In fact, after I returned from training in Patiala, I was promoted to the post of Havildar. Then in 1975, when I went to Indonesia as part of the Indian football team, I was rewarded in the form of a promotion to post of Sub Inspector. In 81, I was made an Inspector after the Assam Police won the Bordoloi Trophy.
After I stopped playing professional football, I devoted my entire time and energy into my job. I got involved in all the anti-insurgency operations which was on at that time – Operation Bajrang, Operation Rhino, operations in border areas, etc. Those operations were also memorable for me because many people in interior places recognised me as the football player whom they had heard about. In 1990, I was appointed to the rank of DSP in the 10th APBN.
Q. When did you get married?
Ans: I got married while I was playing itself. I met my wife, who belongs to the Ao Naga tribe, in Dergaon. We fell in love and got married. We have two daughters.
(First published in melange, The Sentinel on June 22, 2018)
Posted on August 3, 2018, in Personalities/ Interviews and tagged Aiyushman Dutta, Assamese footballers in Indian team, Bordoloi Trophy, Footballers from Assam, Gilbertson Sangma, sportspersons from assam. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.