‘Padma Shri’: Indian Footballers who made it

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Padma Shri or Padma Shree is the fourth-highest civilian award in India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan. It is awarded by the Government of India every year on the 26th of January, celebrated as Indian Republic Day.

Padma Shri was instituted in 1954 to the Indian citizens who excelled and inspired other young Indian individuals in the field of arts, education, industry, literature, science, sports, medicine, social service, and public affairs. In some cases, it has been also awarded to the individuals who were not Indian by nationality but did contribute to the pride of the Indian Republic.

‘The Padma’ means ‘Lotus’ and ‘Shri’ denotes ‘Mr. or Ms’. As of 2020, 3123 people have received the award.

1. Gostha Behari Pal (Mohan Bagan F.C.)

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Gostha Pal was the Indian professional football player who captained the Indian football side in the 1920s and 1930s. Being Bengali, Gostha Pal started his senior career at Kumartuli A.C (played 6 years from 1907-1912). Then he played for the famous Mohan Bagan till his retirement in 1936. He was nicknamed “Chiner Pracheer” (The Great Wall of China) as he was one of the best defenders at the Indian football team in the early 20th century.

Gostha Pal received Padma Shri in 1962 to his contribution to the Indian football at the time. Pal, also received ‘Mohun Bagan Ratna’ award which is given to the legends of the prestigious clubs. He was the first Indian football player to be awarded with ‘Padma Shri’ in 1962.

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2. Sailen Manna (Mohan Bagan F.C.)

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Sailen Manna was an Indian international footballer and is considered to be one of the best defenders India has ever produced. He used to keep a picture of Goddess Kali, barefoot conqueror of demons, tucked away in his pocket. Manna captained the Indian team that won the gold medal at the 1951 Asian Games and also led the team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He also has a record of playing for Mohun Bagan, one of the best clubs in India, for a continuous period of 19 years.

Like Gostho Pal, Sailen Manna also received ‘Mohan Bagan Ratna’ for his contributions to the club. He is the only Asian Footballer ever to be named among the 10 best Captains in the world by the English FA in 1953. The AIFF (All India Football Federation) has honoured him as the ‘Player of the Millennium’. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1971 by the Government of India.

3. Chuni Goswami (Mohan Bagan F.C.)

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Subimal Goswami who is popularly known as Chuni Goswami scored nine goals in 30 international appearances throughout his career. He represented India national team at the 1960 Summer Olympics and led the Indian team to achieve the gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games and earn the runners-up position at the 1964 AFC Asian Cup.

Goswami was one of the best attackers of Indian Football due to which he received Best Striker of Asia Award in 1962 and later Arjuna Award in 1963. He was given the prestigious Padma Shri award in 1983. Like Goshta Pal and Sailen Manna he also played for Mohan Bagan and received ‘Mohan Bagan Ratna’ award in 2005. Chuni Goswami recently died on 30th April 2020 at the age of 82 due to a cardiac arrest.

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4. P. K. Banerjee (East Railway F.C.)

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Pradip Kumar Banerjee was a prolific striker for the Indian football team. He also captained the Indian side later and scored 15 goals in 45 games that he played throughout his career. The striker played in Santosh Trophy for Bihar team at the age of 15 and then joined Aryan F.C. at 18 years of age, the very next year he moved to Eastern Railway F.C. and helped them in winning the 1958 CFL title. He was the very first Indian football player to receive Arjuna Award in 1961. IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics) listed him as the ‘Indian Footballer of 20th Century’.

 Later on, he managed the Indian Squad from 1972 to 1999 for East Bengal and Mohan Bagan. He was a technical director at TATA Football Academy at Jamshedpur from 1991 to 1997. Like Chuni Goswami, Banerjee died on 20th March 2020 suffering a lung infection. FIFA Order of Merit (Centennial) was awarded the highest honour by FIFA in 2004 and he was the only Asian footballer to receive the FAIR PLAY award.

5. Bhaichung Bhutia (Mohan Bagan F.C. and East Bengal F.C.)

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Bhaichung Bhutia is the most iconic Indian footballer that become the first Indian to play for a European club, Bury F.C. (Manchester, England) from 1999-2002. The Sikkim born footballer played majorly for Mohan Bagan and East Bengal until he joined the United Sikkim squad for the 2012-2013 season. He later went on to manage United Sikkim in 2018 before acting as an interim manager in 2011.

Bhutia went on to win three SAFF Championships and AFC Challenge Cup in 2008. He won Arjuna Award in 1998 and won the prestigious Padma Shri in 2008. He is nominated into the Asian Hall of Fame. IFFHS included him in 48 Football Legend Players in 2016. On 28 October 2010, he started Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in Delhi in partnership with Carlos Queiroz and Nike and bringing a change to the Indian football as a whole.

6. Sunil Chhetri

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Sunil Chhetri is today’s Indian youth icon. He has scored a record 72 goals in 115 appearances for India, most by any Indian footballer in history. Chhetri won two SAFF Championships in 2011 and 2015. He received Arjuna Award in 2011 and Padma Shri in 2019. The captain has won 4 I-League titles (1 each with Dempo and Churchill Brothers and 2 for Bengaluru F.C.) and then won ISL for Bengaluru F.C. in the 2018-2019 Season. He also won 3 Nehru Cup for the Indian National Football team and AFC Challenge Cup in 2008.

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