I guess everyone knows that football is one of the games that are played worldwide until today. The madness that circles around FIFA World cup every four years are something worth watching! And it does not matter how we, Indians, are crazy for this madness; our country does not qualify to be on the list of FIFA anyway. It’s the pain and agony that we have been bearing since 1930 when India was not selected as a participant because we played barefoot! On the contrary, we never glorified the one great footballer hero of India who made it to a European club once and made us proud, do we? And his name is Mohammed Salim. In the background of poverty-ridden British India, how an Indian rose from the ashes and became the first Indian player to play abroad is a story that is enticing for every other footballer out there. Have an ear, folks!
When the Fame wasn’t there yet – Early Life
The wonder player of 1930’s was born in a lower-middle class family of Metiabruz, Kolkata in 1904 – a story strikingly similar to other legends of football. The typical schooling and education system never attracted him; rather he was more into honing his skill in football from a tender age of 7. And it was his skill alone that leads him to the Chittaranjan Club of Central Kolkata. No communal identity could stop him from getting his deserved chance. After that, he learnt basics of football at Bowbazar.
Next Level Up – The Showcase of a Rare Talent
It is said that talent cannot be hidden; it will always make a way. And Mohammed Salim’s incredible journeys of hopping from one club to another proved it. At first, he joined the ‘B’ team of the ‘Mohammedan Sporting Club’, and after that, he joined ‘Sporting Club’ where he was hand-picked by Pankaj Gupta because of his rare talent. After a season or two, he joined ‘Aryan Football Club’ in 1932 and completed the circle of his journey by joining Mohammedan Club again in 1934. During the span of his journey, Mohammedan Sporting Club rose as one of the best clubs in Kolkata, and it was a matter of time only for Salim to attract tons of followers towards his magical dribbling skill and ball control.
The Inspiration of Indian Football – Mohammed Salim, the Knight in Shining Armour
The turning point of Salim’s life came when Chinese Olympic Team visited India in 1937. Amongst many talented footballers, Salim was picked in the team of IFA to face the Chinese Olympic Team. And as reports published in the ‘Ananda Bazar Patrika’ of 1937, Salim did very well. However, the uncanny event happened at the second match when Salim suddenly disappeared. Police search warrant was issued, but every effort went in vain.
Later it was known that at that time Salim was on the way to Britain. One of his relatives was quite impressed seeing him play and asked him to try his luck at different European Clubs. He travelled to Glasgow. His relative, Hasheem, talked to the Celtic Park manager, Willie Maley and he agreed to give Salim a chance even though he played barefoot. His skills were tested before 1000 clubs and three registered coaches, and everyone was astonished by his skill. He got the chance to play in the upcoming Alliance Matches. And he made his debut as a European Club player in Hamilton Accies.
Return to India
It does not matter how much fame he earned in Celtic, he returned to India soon because of weather problem and joined Mohammedan Sporting Club again. However, until the end of his life, he was respected by Celtic, and they helped him through his tough times as well.
This winger player of India, not only made India proud but also contributed a great lesson that today’s footballers need the most – ‘when there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Although he passed away in 1980, his soul and his passion for football still rumble through the pages of history!
Written By: Subharthi Bhattacharya