Mohammed Salim, born in 1904 in Kolkata, is celebrated as the first Indian footballer to play overseas. His journey from the bustling streets of Kolkata to the grandeur of European football is nothing short of inspirational.

Early Life and Local Success

Salim grew up in a family of modest means in the then Calcutta (now Kolkata). Football quickly became his passion, and he began his career playing for local clubs. His skill and agility on the field soon caught the eye of bigger clubs, and he joined Mohammedan Sporting Club, one of Kolkata’s most prestigious football clubs.

At Mohammedan Sporting, Salim was instrumental in leading the team to five consecutive Calcutta Football League titles from 1934 to 1938. His exceptional ball control, dribbling skills, and ability to outwit opponents made him a fan favorite and a key player in the team’s success.

Historic Move to Europe

In 1936, Mohammed Salim’s career took a historic turn. Encouraged by his friend and admirer, Dr. A.R. Ahmedi, Salim traveled to Scotland for a trial with Celtic Football Club, one of Europe’s most famous teams. His unique playing style immediately impressed Willie Maley, the legendary Celtic manager.

Salim played two exhibition matches for Celtic against Hamilton Academical and Galston, both of which ended in victories for Celtic. What made these matches even more remarkable was that Salim played barefoot, a stark contrast to his boot-wearing teammates and opponents. Despite this, his performance was so mesmerizing that the Scottish crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Return to India

Despite his success in Scotland, Salim decided to return to India. He declined an offer to sign a professional contract with Celtic, preferring to play for Mohammedan Sporting and contribute to Indian football. His humility and dedication to his roots were evident in this decision.

Back in India, Salim continued to play for Mohammedan Sporting, further solidifying his legacy. He remained a crucial figure in Indian football, inspiring future generations of players.

Legacy and Recognition

Mohammed Salim’s contributions to Indian football were significant, yet his story remained relatively unknown for many years. His pioneering journey paved the way for future Indian footballers to dream of playing on the international stage.

Salim passed away in 1980, but his legacy lives on. He is remembered not only for his skill on the field but also for his role in breaking barriers and showcasing Indian talent to the world. In recent years, efforts have been made to recognize and honor his contributions, ensuring that his story inspires future generations.

Conclusion

Mohammed Salim’s journey from Kolkata to Celtic is a tale of talent, determination, and humility. As the first Indian footballer to play in Europe, he opened doors for future players and proved that with passion and perseverance, one can achieve greatness, regardless of the challenges. His legacy is a testament to the rich history of Indian football and its potential on the global stage.

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