Hailing from Nasapatighari in Upper Mawprem in Shillong, born in 1928 and whose delectable body swerves and thunderous left-footed shots would entertain fans from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the 1950s with large and powerful thighs, a low centre of gravity, he could turn quickly and unleash powerful but accurate shots from any angle. This person is none other than the legendary Lt. Col. (Retd.) Puran Bahadur Thapa.
He was a center midfielder who was versatile in any position. Despite several offers from Kolkata clubs, he never left the security of his army job. He joined the Indian Army in 1947. After his football career was over, he excelled as a soldier and retired as Lt. Colonel. He played for the 8th Gorkha Rifles and Gorkha Brigade, represented Services in the Santosh trophy and played on several occasions for India.
It was 49 years ago, when an Indian first scored a hat-trick in international football at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in the Quadrangular football tournament against Pakistan. Puran Bahadur’s hat-trick enabled India win the tie 3-1 and win the Quadrangular trophy for the third successive year. Overall, this tournament was held for four years, 1952-55 and an Indian won each time, never losing a match to any of their opponents, Burma (now Myanmar), Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In 1954, the only year this event was staged in India, the great S.A. Rahim was India’s coach and the late Sailen Manna was India’s captain.
Puran Bahadur was the star of that tournament. In the opening match against tenacious Ceylon, he created the only goal with a measured cross for overlapping left-half Noor Mohammed. In the next match, he and J. Anthony scored in the 2-1 win over Burma. Then came the icing on the cake, as his hat-trick against Pakistan helped India win the tournament. In those days, Pakistan was quite a formidable team and included the skilful outside left Masud Fakhri, who later played 2nd division league football in England.
In 1955, he again excelled for India when they won the Quadrangular tournament for the fourth time, beating Ceylon 4-3, Burma 5-2 and Pakistan 2-1. The tournament was staged in Dhaka and S.K. Azizuddin was India’s captain. In 1955 again, he was lined up for India against the USSR Services team in an international match at the National Stadium, in Delhi. This USSR Services team contained legendary names like goalkeeper Lev Yashin, midfielders Igor Netto and Boris Tatushin.
It was said that, after the match, the manager of the Soviet team went to the press box and enquired about the background of Puran Bahadur who looked impressed with Thapa.
Puran Bahadur, however, failed to represent India in the major international tournament like the Asian Games or the Olympics for a number of reasons as this stockily built 5’4″ forward has no grudges and regrets about missing some famous tournaments, as the Army was his career.
Thapa also holds the distinction of being the first coach of Shillong Lajong FC which was then known as Lajong Sports and Cultural Club.
Puran Bahadur, now in the twilight of his life, is still a keen follower of Indian football, and laments that there is not as much depth in talent as was present in his playing days. He has two sons Ajay and Vijay Thapa. Ajay Thapa was captain of the St. Anthony’s Shillong school team which won the 1978 Subroto Mukherjee Cup beating Madhyamgram HS, Bengal 1-0 in the final, but then started his own business.
Shillong News with inputs from SportsKeeda & Goalie365