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Bhaichung Bhutia

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

From Bengal to Bury - India's captain on the struggle to succeed in the home of football
 
Bhaichung "Chip" Bhutia is the captain of the Indian national team. Aged 25, he joined the Second Division English club Bury in September 1999 on a free transfer after trials with Aston Villa. As the first Indian player ever to play in the English football league, Bhutia has attracted a great deal of attention both in England, and back home, where Bhutia was accustomed to playing in front of crowds of up to 140,000 in East Bengal's Salt Lake stadium.
 
As Bhutia recalls, it was some contrast coming to Bury, whose average gates are around 3,000! He even admits, "I'd never heard of Bury, and they weren't even in the picture when I came over from India to trial with some English clubs. My agent spoke to somebody who knew Bury's manager at that time, Neil Warnock, and a trial was arranged for me. I did very well, scored a couple of good goals and eventually signed a three year contract."
 
The first few months were a huge learning process for Bhaichung as he struggled to adapt to the physical nature of Second Division football. But his willingness to respond positively to the challenge before him impressed the coaching staff at Bury.
 
Kevin Blackwell, then assistant manager at Bury, recalls that Bhutia worked extremely hard to improve his fitness levels. "Despite being a hero in India, he was very willing to learn and would do the work when he had to. The game over here is ten times more physical than in India and he had to adjust to it. We knew that we would have to invest at least six to eight months in him before he would be up to speed. But he never moaned despite the hard work."
 
Bhutia gradually began to force his way into the first team and was an immediate hit with the Bury fans. "The fans definitely took to him... he loves to take players on and score goals and fans like that," said Blackwell.
 
Bhutia scored his first goal against Chesterfield in April 2000 in a 1-1 draw, "I can't really describe how it felt but I was so delighted," he said.
 
Unfortunately, Bhutia suffered a series of injuries in the following season, which severely limited his first team appearances. Bhutia has just returned from India following the end of their World Cup qualifying campaign in an extremely positive mood.
 
"I'm settling back in to life in England again," he said. "I've moved to a different house and feeling really good about things. I just hope this season can be much better than the last."
 
Kevin Blackwell believes that Bhutia has already accomplished one significant achievement, "As the first Indian to play in the English football league I hope that Bury have sent a message out to the Asian community in this country. There must be some great talent around and we hope we inspire some of them by showing that if they are good enough we'll give them a chance".

 

 

July 2001, Michael Lee

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