Story of Mohammed Salim: Indian Football Legend
Long before the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri made their mark on the Indian football scene, an Indian player was mesmerizing the Scots with dazzling skills. He attended trials with Celtics, the most famous team from Scotland and impressed the coach so much that he wanted to offer him a place on the team. However, fate had other plans and the glorious transfer from the amateur football in Inida to the professional league in Scotland did not happen. However, the man himself etched his names in the minds of generations to follow.
The legend we are talking about was the first Indian football player to ply his trade in Europe. In the 1936-37 season, Mohammed Abdul Salim, appeared in two friendly games for the celebrated team of Celtic Rangers. However, faced by homesickness Salim did not take up a permanent place in the Glasgow based outfit. Story of Mohammed Salim is a true inspiration for any football fan in India.
The extraordinary story of how Mohammed Salim, came to play for Celtic in the 1936-37 season has been unearthed by a Boria Mazumdar, a Rhodes scholar.Salim was born in colonial Calcutta in 1904. Majumdar says: “At that time, with Indian nationalists fighting for independence from British colonial rule, many Indians took to football to answer British jibes that Indians were not manly enough to rule themselves. The Indians played in bare feet and despite this they defeated English men in boots which was seen as evidence that Indians were not inferior to the British.”
By the mid-1930s Salim, a winger, was an essential member of Calcutta’s Mohammedan Sporting Club side, and helped them to claim five successive Calcutta League titles.A cousin called Hasheem who lived in England, was then visiting Calcutta and having seen Salim’s exceptional display, Hasheem urged Salim to try his hand at European football. Hasheem took Salim to London, and then Glasgow, and persuaded Coach Maley to Grant Salim a trial. Initially the idea of a bare-footed amateur from India competing against Scottish professionals was difficult to believe. However Maley relented and asked Salim to demonstrate his skill before 1,000 club members and three registered coaches.
Salim’s ability, even in bare feet, astonished them. They decided to play him in a match against Hamilton. Salim, in bare feet, proved exceptional helping Celtic win 5-1. In his second match against Galston, Celtic won 7-1 and his performance led the Scottish Daily Express of Aug 29, 1936, to carry the headline: “Indian Juggler – New Style.” The paper wrote: “Ten twinkling toes of Salim, Celtic FC’s player from India, hypnotised the crowd at Parkhead last night. He balances the ball on his big toe, lets it run down the scale to his little toe, twirls it, hops on one foot around the defender.”
However, after a few months in Scotland, Salim began to feel homesick and was decided to return to India. Celtic tried to persuade him to stay by offering to organise a charity match in his honour, giving him five per cent of the gate proceeds. However, Salim offered that money to the charity and returned back to India.
Mohammed Salim passed away on the 5th November 1980 and will forever be remembered not only as the first Indian player to play in Europe but probably the finest football talent India ever produced.