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The Barefooted Indian football player - Mohammed Salim

From a chemist to becoming the first Indian to play for a European club, Mohammed Salim is an evergreen inspiration to all the generations. Here is a little snippet on his life journey.

Last updated: 31.08.2020
The Barefooted Indian football player - Mohammed Salim | Sports Social Blog

Born in the colonial era, Mohammed Abdul-Salim Bachi Khan’s journey as a football player and the emergence and development of football in India couldn’t have played out any better. Indians were considered inferior by British. Several Indian citizens took to football to prove them wrong. This practice was very famous in the 1920a and 30s. They played barefoot and defeated British players who played wearing boots and saw it as a proof that claimed Indians as nothing inferior to the British.

When Salim got into the Chittaranjan Club of Bowbazar located in Central Calcutta, his counterparts instilled the desire to beat the foreigners in this game. His extraordinary performances, ardent desire and exceptional skills soon rained him with success and opportunities.

The Mohammedan Sporting Club went on to win five leagues at a stretch with Salim playing a pivotal role in their new found success mantra. His correct passes and ball controlling techniques soon won million hearts.

His claimed success bought him an immediate opportunity to play against the Chinese Olympic side of that age. He was scheduled to play two games. After his mesmerising performance, he was even appreciated by Chinese officials. He vanished before the next match

Before the second match, a relative had seen the excellent display of skills by Salim and had persuaded him to go to England, setting on a new journey of his own. He toured London for a few days and later visited Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. He indeed was struck by the differences the two places shared but wanted to try his hand at European football.

For Celtic management and Scottish players, the thought of a barefooted ardent player performing against them was both shocking and surprising. He was asked to play and show his skills in front of 1000 players and 3 registered coaches. His astonishing demonstration of skills left them awe struck. He was soon a part of the team and played two games of friendlies. In the debut game, he beautifully played a penalty shot in a victory of 5-1. Later, he assisted Celtic win 7-1 against Galton. Three goals of the 7 came from Salim.

After his second match, The Scottish Daily Express carried on an article describing Salim’s talent in magical words. The headline read "Indian Juggler – New Style”.  

One of the lines from the article read, “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, then flicks the ball to the center who has only to send it into goal.”

His skills, barefoot technique and dark skin was the talk of the town then. Down the lane, in a few months, he became homesick and left for India. The Celtic requested him to stay with them for one more season along with a huge pay. He asked them to use the money to fund the local orphans and refused it. He was also offered a professional contract in Germany. He later came back to India in 1937 and re-joined Mohammedan Sporting Club for that year’s Calcutta Football League.

Later when he fell ill, his son wrote a letter to the Celtic officials asking for a monetary help. His intention was not financial support but was to see if they still remember him. To everyone’s surprise, he got a reply letter with a cheque for £100. His son never cashed it and it is still preserved as a memory of Salim’s talent.

Salim was the first Indian to play for a European club. In 1976, he was awarded the Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy State Award. Challenging the British during the colonial era was seemingly difficult and sometimes impossible, but Salim did it with ease and perfection. He is indeed one of the great players of all generations.

Read more articles related to Indian Football and its history here: Indian Football

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