Indian football has been criticised often. But the current condition of football in India is neither a true nor a fair reflection of its worthy past. Once considered as a powerhouse in Asia, the present status of football in India however, is definitely nothing to be proud of. Despite having millions of football fans, the root problem of Indian football seems to be ignorance. Meanwhile, India is languishing in 137th position in the latest FIFA men’s rankings. However, the story of Mohammed Salim is a certain tale straight from Indian football’s history books that is rarely remembered.
Mohammed Salim was a passionate Indian footballer born in Kolkata at the time of British Raj in 1904. He had made his debut at the age of 22 for Kolkata’s Chittaranjan Football Club in 1926. Salim subsequently also featured for the Sporting Union, East Bengal, and Aryans Club in his career. But Mohammed earned a wide scale reputation for winning the prestigious Calcutta Football League five times (1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938) with Mohammedan Sporting Club in addition to the IFA Shield in 1936. Mohammed Salim was also the first Indian football player to play for a European club – Celtic FC.
Mohammed Salim is a forgotten Indian legend of the world’s most followed sport, one who dared to venture in an unknown path to develop his footballing talent. He was known for his dribbling, passing and crossing skills.
Salim’s cousin encouraged him to play in the UK, so they travelled to Scotland. He used to play football on barefoot, without any boots and also used to bandage his feets tightly. Then Celtic FC manager Willie Maley sanctioned a trial for Mohammed in front of a thousand odd club members and three registered coaches. His ball control and dribbling impressed the Celts’ staff.
Mohammed was offered an opportunity to feature for Celtic for two friendly matches. Celtic defeated Hamilton Accies 5-1 and then beat Galston 7-1, Salim scored twice including a beautiful penalty that won the hearts of the Celtic fans. But soon after, he felt homesick and thus returned to India to resume his career in football. He enjoyed a decent career, retiring in 1938. Salim passed away at the age of 76 in 1980 but his legacy lives till date.
Following in his footsteps, Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Paul, and most recently Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has also played football in Europe. The football fraternity must understand that Mohammed Salim was always an artist but never a superstar.