Indian football lost its sahab on Wednesday as Amar Bahadur Gurung (73), one of the country's finest left-wingers breathed his last at a Gurgaon hospital. Gurung suffered from a bout of jaundice.

Amar Bahadur Gurung
Amar Bahadur Gurung

Interestingly, the nickname sahab was given to Gurung in the 1970s by football-crazy Cooperage fans, who filled up the blocks to watch the star player turn up for then top side Mafatlal SC. Former Orkay player Prakash Shetty explained why.

"Amar was always spick and span with his football kit and absolutely hated to get dirty. He would play clean football and never indulged in body tackles and expected the same from opponents. That's the reason fans started calling him sahab (meaning big shot or big boss in Hindi). And if an opposition defender dared to bring him down, he would vent all his frustration of getting dirty by dribbling past the defence almost single-handedly," explained Shetty.

Gurung made his India debut against Cambodia in the 1967 Asia Cup Qualifiers in Cambodia and went on to earn 22 India caps. The mercurial forward scored the all-important winner in the 1-0 win against Japan that saw India clinch the 1970 Asian Games bronze in Bangkok.

Born in Dehradun and having studied at the Gorkha Military School, Gurung represented the Gorkha Rifles football team before he quit the Army in 1967 and moved to Mumbai to represent Mafatlal. At the domestic level, he helped the Gorkhas win the Durand Cup (1966) and Mafatlal win the Rovers Cup (1968) among other titles.

Former Central Railway right back Leslie Machado recalled how troublesome it was to contain Gurung. "I played against him in the Harwood League when he was in the twilight of his career, but even then, he was like lightning on the left flank. It was mesmerising to simply watch his ball skills. I had a torrid time," he said.

Shetty recalled another episode that highlighted Gurung's integrity. "In the early 1980s, he was appointed Maharashtra coach and the WIFA (Western India Football Association) gave him a line-up of their choice of players. Gurung tore the sheet and walked off never to return."

Income Tax football team manager Bosco Fernandes credited the Air India football team's early success to Gurung. "It is Gurung, who coached Air India to glory before Bimal Ghosh carried on the good work," said Fernandes.