Baichung Bhutia was born on 15 December 1976 in Tinkitam, Sikkim, India, is an Indian footballer. He is considered to be the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena. Currently the captain of the Indian team, he plays for East Bengal Club. He is often nicknamed the Sikkimese Sniper because of his shooting skills in football. Three-time Indian Player of the Year I. M. Vijayan described Bhutia as “God’s gift to Indian football”.
Bhutia has had four spells at I-League football team East Bengal Club, the club where he started his career. When he signed up to play for the English club Bury F.C. in 1999 he became the first Indian footballer to play professional football in Europe. Afterwards he had a short loan spell at the Malaysian football club Perak FA. As well as this he has played for JCT Mills, which won the league once during his tenure; and Mohun Bagan, which failed to win the league once during his two spells, in his native India. His international footballing honours include winning the Nehru Cup, LG Cup, South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship (three times) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup. He is also India’s most capped player, and in the 2009 Nehru Cup he received his 100th international cap.
Off the field, Bhutia is known for winning the reality television programme Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, which caused much controversy with his then-club Mohun Bagan, and for being the first Indian athlete to boycott the Olympic torch relay in support of the Tibetan independence movement. Bhutia, who has a football stadium named after him in honour of his contribution to Indian football, has also won many awards such as the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri.
Bhutia was born in Tinkitam on 15 December 1976 to Dorji Dorma and Sonam Topden. His elder brother was a footballer at the local level. In addition to football, Baichung also represented his school at badminton, basketball and athletics. His parents, both farmers in Sikkim, were originally not keen on Bhutia’s interest in sports. However, after encouragement from his uncle Karma Bhutia, he started his education in St. Xaviers School, Pakyong, East Sikkim, and at the age of nine he won a football scholarship from SAI to attend the Tashi Namgyal Academy in Gangtok.
On 28th October 2010 he started Baichung Bhutia Soccer School in Delhi in partnership with Football by Carlos Quieroz and Nike, Inc.
He went on to play for several school and local clubs in his home state of Sikkim including the Gangtok-based Boys Club, which was coached by Karma Bhutia. His performance at the 1992 Subroto Cup, where he won the “Best Player” award, brought him to the notice of the football establishment. Former India goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly spotted his talent and helped him make the transition to Calcutta football.
In 1993, at the age of sixteen, he left school to join the professional East Bengal Club in Calcutta. Two years later he transferred to JCT Mills in Phagwara, which went on to win the India National Football League in the 1996–97 season. Bhutia was the top goalscorer in the league, and was chosen to make his international debut in the Nehru Cup. He was named “1996 Indian Player of the Year”.
In 1997 he returned to East Bengal Club. Bhutia has the distinction of scoring the first hat-trick in the local derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, when he registered one in East Bengal’s 4–1 victory in the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final. He became team captain in the 1998–99 season, during which East Bengal finished second behind Salgaocar in the league. Furthermore he became the 19th footballer to receive the Arjuna Award in 1999, which the Government of India gives out to athletes to recognise their “outstanding achievements” in national sports.
In 2009, partnering with choreographer Sonia Jaffer, he won the third season of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, the Indian version of the international series Dancing With the Stars. Bhutia earned Rs.4 million for winning the competition, beating Karan Singh Grover and Gauhar Khan in the final. Bhutia donated half of the prize money to charity and the other half was shared with his choreographer; he also said some money would go towards areas hit by Cyclone Aila. It was reported that an “SMS Voting Frenzy” allowed him to win after many organisations in Sikkim conducted mass voting events (this involved participants buying mobile cash cards so they could vote via SMS) to increase Bhutia’s chance of winning the trophy. This performance put Bhutia’s relationship with his club Mohun Bagan in jeopardy, as he missed an exhibition match as well as practice sessions due to his participation in the reality show.