Chinmoy Kalita's journey with Indian Super League (ISL) side NorthEast United FC began with the league’s inception in 2014, when he was chosen as one of the escort kids that season. He was a part of NorthEast United FC’s first-ever ISL game against Kerala Blasters FC, where they secured a notable victory.

“I didn’t imagine football to be this big in India. It was the first time me and my classmates were seeing such a huge pitch, the grass... It was a new feeling but it felt nice,” he states.

Hailing from Lutuma in Guwahati, he has ingrained himself deeply into the club’s fabric. Starting as an escort kid, he progressed through the ranks, eventually representing their youth teams. Remarkably, despite setbacks in his professional career due to injuries, Kalita is still involved with the club and has been serving as the club’s kit manager for the past three seasons.

The youngster is deeply cherished by those within NorthEast United FC staff and the club’s fan base, and his journey stands as a fine example of how setbacks can be overcome and turned into victories.

Early beginnings

Chinmoy's introduction to football began innocuously through playing cricket. Introduced to the sport by his school coach, Shubham Rawa, football was initially just another game among friends in Lutuma, Guwahati. Little did he know that this introduction would set the stage for a life-long love affair with the beautiful game.

The club selected 22 kids from South Point School as club escorts, with Kalita being one of them. He served as an escort kid for three seasons. These initial glimpses into the professional world of football left a mark on him, igniting a fire to pursue the sport.

As he matured, so did his involvement. Kalita’s journey as a player began with the Lutuma football academy. It was there that he found himself drawn to the role of a goalkeeper. It was his coach's suggestion that led him to don the gloves, as all other positions were already taken.

"I was the only keeper, so my teammates used to look out for me. It was a special feeling," Kalita recalls.

NorthEast United FC quickly launched their own academy in Shillong. Although it closed soon after, Kalita got selected for trials at the age of 13 and went on to play for their U-15 and U-17 youth teams. While part of the youth team, he also had the opportunity to train and play with the first team. 

Initially joining the first-team squad towards the end of the 2017-18 season, he remained with the team until the end of the 2019-20 season. He honed his skills under former NorthEast United FC goalkeeping coach Sandip Nandy and former player Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, both of whom have represented the Indian national team.

Among current players in the ISL, he has played alongside the likes of NorthEast United FC duo Parthib Gogoi and Gurmeet Singh.

A career-ending injury

However, in both life and football, obstacles arise. For Kalita, it was no different. A knee injury sidelined his promising playing career just as it was gaining momentum. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, halting his recovery and training for almost two years due to lockdown restrictions. He attempted to resume training post-pandemic, but the pain persisted. Consulting a doctor, he was advised to quit playing due to a knee dislocation. The injury dealt a setback to Kalita, but without football, life felt incomplete.

“I just had football on my mind. I couldn't imagine working in a different field apart from football and staying happy,” he says. 

He began preparations to obtain a coaching licence and, upon turning 18, applied for an AIFF D License, successfully clearing it. 

From player to kit manager

During this transition period, Kalita found himself presented with an opportunity that would redefine his role within NorthEast United FC. The club’s team manager, Shahashad Muhammed, encouraged him to apply for the position of kit manager. Kalita eagerly accepted the challenge, joining the team for the 2021-22 season. For him, it felt like reuniting with family despite the cost of his injury.

"I always wanted to be part of the team, whether as a player or in another capacity. It felt great to become part of the team again," he explains.

As kit manager, Chinmoy's responsibilities extend far beyond the dressing room. There is meticulous attention required to ensure that the team has everything they need before and during the matchday.

“Before each game, we have a list of players who are available, so I need to take care of their kits. Once the kits are ready, I need to set them up on the matchday. I also ensure that mats or foam rollers are available for the players. Balls and markers used by the coach are some of the other things I need to take care of on the ground. After warm-up, I need to set up the dressing room again,” he reveals.

For now, Kalita enjoys being part of the dressing room. He says that interacting with different coaches during his time as kit manager has taught him a lot about game management. He looks up to former NorthEast United FC head coach Khalid Jamil, under whom he has been both a player and kit manager. Kalita plans to pursue his AIFF C and B licences soon. He is passionate about coaching but at 20, he is learning a lot and still learning.

“I don’t know what my future holds, but I am sure it will be in football."