Shyam Thapa has played for both the Kolkata giants in his illustrious career. In fact, he started his career in East Bengal when he was still a teenager after he was signed by East Bengal's Assistant General Secretary Jyotish Guha in 1966.
The young forward grabbed headlines when he scored the winner in Subroto Mukherjee Cup final for Gorkha Higher Secondary school. But it was in Dehradun that he was spotted by Guha during a friendly match and was roped in for East Bengal. Back in the 1960s, the Calcutta Football League (CFL) was fiercely fought and upon the insistence of Guha, the young striker was given a start.
Thapa did not disappoint and he scored a hat-trick against Rajasthan Football Club.
"I owe my gratitude to Jyotish Guha. He signed me for East Bengal when I was a nobody and provided me the platform to shine. Whatever I am today, it is due to that man," reminisced the former India international to Goal on the eve of East Bengal's centenary foundation day.
He spent one year at the club and returned to Gorkha Brigade only to come back to East Bengal in 1970. In that season, East Bengal won back the CFL title but Thapa had to leave for Mumbai as he received an offer from Mafatlal Mills, where he would rejoin several former teammates from Gorkha Brigade like Ranjit Thapa, Bhupender Singh Rawat, and Amar Bahadur.
"After winning the CFL in 1970-71 I left for Mumbai. Santo Mitra (former East Bengal captain) requested me to come back. But I told him that I cannot leave a lucrative job in Mumbai and get back to Kolkata. But he was adamant. He assured me that he would help me get a job in Kolkata as well. So, with a lot of uncertainty, I came to Kolkata in 1974."
Thapa reached Kolkata to help the Red and Golds clinch a sixth successive CFL title which would help them surpass Mohammedan Sporting's five consecutive wins from 1934-38.
"I was a man on a mission. In 1975, all good players like Mohammed Habib, Syed Nayeemuddin, left East Bengal for Mohammedan just to weaken East Bengal so that the record stays intact. It hurt me a lot. Mohun Bagan also made a good team that year to stop East Bengal. The onus was on me and Subash Bhowmick.
"In one of the first few rounds, we had to face Mohun Bagan. I cannot forget that match. I beat four defenders and scored a goal. It was eventually the winner. I regret that the match was not televised. The goal has no clipping. It is the best goal I scored. We also beat Mohammedan 3-1 and I scored the opener beating (Mohammed) Akbar and Naim (Syed Nayeemuddin)," recounted the striker.
Thapa was also the protagonist in the IFA Shield final where East Bengal created history by humiliating Mohun Bagan 5-0. Thapa scored a brace and he could have become the first player to score a hat-trick in a derby only if he had converted a spot-kick in the 11th minute.
"It is one of my biggest regrets. I missed the hat-trick in that match. I could not convert a penalty. And interestingly, I took all penalties for the Indian national team. Later, Bhaichung (Bhutia) became the first to score a hat-trick in a derby. But I heard that a Bagan supporter could not bear the 5-0 loss and ended his life. It hurt me a lot. After that incident, I always wanted to come to Mohun Bagan and win for them. So it was one of the reasons behind joining Mohun Bagan in 1977," stated Thapa.
During his first three East Bengal stints, Thapa won the Calcutta League and IFA Shield thrice and the Rovers Cup title in 1975. In ’75 East Bengal did the Rovers-Shield-League treble with Thapa being an instrumental figure in the dressing room.