Kolkata, April 12: Shyam Thapa belongs to that generation of Indian football which is treasured in gilded letters.
A striker par excellence, Thapa stole the limelight between mid-sixties and mid-eighties, exhibiting superb ball control, uncanny dribbling, and sharp shooting, although Thapa is best remembered for his back volleys for the sheer beauty of their execution.
Thapa started his career at East Bengal when he was still a teenager after he was snapped up by the club in 1966.
A winner in Subroto Mukherjee Cup final for Gorkha Higher Secondary school helped Thapa grab headlines but it was in Dehradun that he was spotted during a friendly match and was roped in for East Bengal.
Thapa stamped his authority on debut when he scored a hattrick against Rajasthan Football Club donning the red and gold colours.
“I first saw Shyam Thapa in the 1966 (Calcutta Football League) CFL and he caught the eye of the pundits by scoring a hattrick for East Bengal versus Rajasthan Club. A nimble footed player with a perfect ball control also scored a goal with a fine back volley,” noted football historian and statistician Gautam Roy told the club’s official website.
“He made his presence felt amidst the star studded East Bengal team which had players like Parimal Dey, P.Sinha, Ram Bahadur, Nayeem, Habib and others. He did not feature in many matches despite his exuberance and went back to Gorkha Brigade and won the Durand Cup for them in 1969,” he added.
Thapa spent one year at the club and returned to Gorkha Brigade, only to come back to East Bengal in 1970.
Thapa helped the Red and Golds clinch a sixth successive Calcutta Football League title which would help them surpass Mohammedan Sporting's five consecutive wins from 1934-38. He also scored a brace in East Bengal's historic 5-0 rout of Mohun Bagan in the 1975 IFA Shield final. He could have become the first player to score a hattrick in a derby, had he not spurned a penalty in the 11th minute.
“I have not seen many strikers who were so lethal inside the box. If Shyam got the ball inside that area, he would become like you say ‘a fox in the box’. He was a poacher in every sense of the term,” Surajit Sengupta, Thapa’s long time teammate told www.sceastbengal.co. Sengupta scored a goal in that IFA Shield final as the red and golds trampled Mohun Bagan.
“He was always smiling, Shyam. He rejoiced like no other after a win and was equally low after a defeat. He was full of energy and I feel his energy made him Shyam Thapa,” Sengupta added. “Then he almost patented the scissor kick. He was so good. I remember he also played as a defender during his early years. His commitment to the game was second to none.”
During his first three East Bengal stints, Thapa won the Calcutta League and the IFA Shield title in 1975. In 1975, East Bengal did the Rovers-Shield-League treble with Thapa being a vital cog in the wheel.
“A brilliant dribbler and sharp shooter he played many memorable matches for East Bengal scoring a number of fantastic goals. In the League Derby he scored a peach of a goal dribbling past Subrata Bhattacharya and Nimai Goswami akin to Bright’s (Enobakhare) goal against FC Goa in the last (Indian Super League) ISL,” recounted Roy who has seen Thapa’s career from start to finish.
Therefore, Thapa is our second great in the 'SCEB Legends Collection' as we try and celebrate his skills and roll back the years.