Legends of Indian Football : Mohammedan Sporting in 1930s

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Mohun Bagan’s victory in the 1911 IFA Shield was more than just a sporting victory. It had far reaching political implications, and it was the crucial boost that Indian football needed in its nascent stage. If Mohun Bagan were the early flag bearers of Indian supremacy in a sport dominated by the British, then it was the men clad in Black and White colours of Mohammedan Sporting who permanently upstaged British teams in Indian football. Over the years, Indian football fans have seen several swashbuckling club sides, but very few have managed to match the aura of invincibility that surrounded the Mohammedan team of 1930s. They were unbeatable, unconquerable and paved the way for the club to become one of the best supported ones in India.

Humble Beginnings

Mohammedan’s beginning was humble;  in 1887, Nawab Azizul Islam founded a club for spreading football among the sizeable muslim population around Calcutta. The club was initially named “Jubilee Club”. The name was changed twice later – first to “Crescent Club”, and then to “Hamidia Club”. Then in 1891 finally, “Mohammedan Sporting Club” formally began its existence.

Mohammedan took time to become one of the major players in Kolkata’s football circuit. The credit for turning them into a football power goes to C.A Aziz, perhaps the first modern thinker in Indian football. Aziz, along with Aryan Club’s Dukhiram Mazumdar, was one of the first native football officials who understood the importance of wearing boots. Before 1930s, Mohammedan’s main success was in the Coochbehar Cup which they won in 1902, 1906 and 1909. In 1930, Mohammedan was allowed to stay in Second division despite finishing last, as EIR closed their club. During this time, Aziz acted promptly, concentrating on creating a strong team. After an encouraging show in 1930, Aziz recruited Bagan rejects  Kaleh Khan and Hafiz Rahid in 1931. Players from different parts of India were slowly brought in, often in the name of religion. Bit by bit, C.A Aziz was building an unstoppable team.

The 1936 team – first Indian team to do Shield-League double. From left – (standing) Bacchi Khan, Samsad, Rahim, Osman, (unknown),Saboo, Masum, Rashid (Jr.). (sitting, middle row) (unknown), Abbas, (unknown), (unknown), Noor Mohammad, Safi Ispahani.(sitting, lower row) Safi Khan, Jumma Khan.

The “Invincibles”

In 1933, Mohammedan qualified for the first division of Calcutta Football League for the first time in its history. Mohammedan had a truly cosmopolitan outfit, with players from different corners of India. Masum, Mahiuddin and Rahmat came from Bangalore, while Jumma Khan arrived from western borders.

Under the captaincy of Khurshid Anwar, Mohammedan became the first native club to capture the CFL title in 1934, their first year in top division. By 1935, the charismatic Abbas Mirza had taken over the captain’s arm-band. Mirza would lead Mohammedan to even greater heights. That year, Mohammedan would recruit an irreplaceable player from Delhi’s Crescent Club – goalkeeper Osman Jan. According the veteran Sailen Manna, Osman was the greatest ‘keeper he had ever seen. Standing at 5’6” Osman had a great leap and a powerful fist. He was almost unbeatable in one on one situations. Full-back Taj Mohammad was feared for his hard tackles; his partnership with Jumma Khan ensured Mohammedan had a water–tight defence in that era. Jumma Khan used to play for Sandemanians in Quetta before joining Mohammedan, and he was famous for his heading ability.

Centre-half Noor Mohammad was an extremely industrious player with a strong tackle. He was complemented well by left-half Masum, who was the creative genius. In attack, the triumvirate of Rahim, Rashid and Rahmat used to cause havoc in opponent defenses. Rehmat was the brains behind Mohammedan’s attacking moves, while Rashid, with his brilliant left foot, was also good in the air. Left-out Bacchi Khan was an notorious for his rough style of play. Rashid (16 goals) was the top scorer in Calcutta Football League in 1935, while Rahim (18 goals) achieved that feat in 1938 season.

The 1940 League winning team.From Left – (standing) Safi, Shah-Jahan, Noor Mohammad, Taher, Taj Mohammad, Bashir.(sitting, middle row) Bacchi Khan, Hafeez Rashid, Masum, Saboo, Jumma Khan.(sitting, lower row) Rashid Khan, Kalu Khan, Sirajuddin

Mohammedan had many legendary players in that era, but one man who has survived the onslaught of time is right-out Abdul Salim. Salim was born in Metiaburuz, Kolkata and was one of the few local players in Sporting. He joined Sporting in 1934, and played a major role in their title winning seasons. After stellar performances against the Chinese Olympic team in 1936, his friend Hakim convinced him to travel abroad. Salim gave trials in the famous Scottish club Celtic FC, and his skills with his bare feet stunned the locals. The curious fact is, Salim was the first foreign player to have ever given a trial for Celtic in the club’s illustrious and glorious history. Salim could have become the first Indian footballer to play abroad, but he got home sick and returned back to Mohammedan. The Scottish Daily Express wrote about Salim:

“Indian Juggler – New Style. Ten twinkling toes of Salim, Celtic FC’s player from India, hypnotised the crowd at Parkhead. He balanced the ball on his big toe, lets it run down the scale to his little toe, twirls it, and hops on one foot around the defender.”

Mohammedan’s achievements in that era, coupled with the religious angle, drew thousands of fans to their matches. In half a decade, Sporting began to challenge East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in terms of popularity. The club has retained its fanatical fan base till date despite indifferent performances.

Achievements

Mohammedan Sporting created several records in that era – some of which might never be broken. They became the first native club to win the CFL in 1934. They also are the only club till date to have won the league title just after getting promoted to first division. From 1934 to 1938, Sporting won the league for five consecutive times – a record bettered by only East Bengal in 1970s. Sporting continued their winning spree in 1940s, winning the title in 1940 and 1941. Mohammedan missed out in 1939 because they had declined to play in CFL as a sign of protest against IFA – other teams like East Bengal and Kalighat also didn’t participate. Had Mohammedan played that year, they might have created the record of winning the title on eight consecutive seasons. Abbas Mirza captained his team to four back to back League titles, a record yet to be broken. Mohammedan’s league performances in that era are as follows.

Their performances in Cup competitions were no less brilliant. In 1936, Sporting became the second Indian club to win IFA Shield. In the final, they defeated Calcutta Club 2-1 with goals from Rashid (Jr.) and Rahim. That year they also became the first Indian club to do the League-Shield “double”. In 1941, they became the first Indian club to win two Shield titles, when they beat KOCB in the final courtesy of goals from Rashid and Saboo. They also became the first Indian club to retain the Shield, when they saw off East Bengal’s challenge in 1942 final with a goal from Noor Mohammad.

Mohammedan Sporting created history in 1940 by becoming the first Indian club to win the Durand Cup. Under Masum’s leadership, they defeated Royal Warwickshire 2-1 in the final. In same season they also captured the Rovers Cup by beating Bangalore Muslims 1-0, thus creating another unique record of holding both Durand and Rovers Cup in the same season.

Sadly, such a wonderful and record breaking team has been lost in the pages of history. Clubs and officials in Kolkata don’t make proper efforts to conserve their glorious history. They never take initiatives to educate younger fans about legends from past. When Mohammedan celebrated 75 years anniversary of winning the first CFL title last year, the organized a tournament called “Jubilee Cup”. The author was present when the tournament was kicked off; there was very little mention about players from the 1930s teams. This opportunity could have been taken to etch these legends into public memory, but sadly, as always the officials missed the trick.

Sources : “Stories from Indian Football” by Jaydeep Basu, “East Bengal Mohun Bagan reshareshi” by Manas Chakravarty.  Old articles from newspapers and Khela Magazine. A special thanks to Zia Ur Rahaman and his wonderful site – http://mdsportingclub.webs.com for providing invaluable pictures and stats.