The Mohammed Salim StoryBy: Matt | December 30th, 2008
The Daily Telegraph had a great write up, and the Green Brigade Forum posted about Mohammed Salim, the first Indian to play in European Football. Of course, Salim played for Celtic. Here is his story:
Celtic were not only the first British club to win the European Cup, they were also the first European club to play an Indian and, what is more, he performed in bare feet.
The extraordinary story of how Mohammed Salim, an Indian from Calcutta,came to play for Celtic in the 1936-37 season has been unearthed by a Rhodes scholar.
Boria Majumdar, deputy editor of the International Journal of the History of Sport says: “It shows how in the days of the Empire Celtic broke barriers, living up to the ideal of the civilising mission and how this Indian in bare feet enchanted one half of Glasgow.”
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.
After the title win of 1936, Salim was invited to play two friendlies against the Chinese Olympic side. A cousin called Hasheem who lived in England, and was then visiting Calcutta, witnessed the first match. Having seen Salim’s exceptional display, Hasheem urged Salim to try his hand at European football.
Hasheem was so persuasive that instead of playing in the second Chinese friendly, Salim sailed with him on the City of Cairo for England. After a few days in London, Hasheem took him to Glasgow and Celtic Park.
Salim was surprised to note that all the Celtic players were professionals.
However, when asked whether he would be able to compete with them he nodded in approval. Salim’s confidence encouraged Hasheem to speak to Willie Maley, the Celtic manager.
Hasheem told him: “A great player from India has come by ship. Will you please take a trial of his? But there is a slight problem. Salim plays in bare feet.”
Maley laughed, the idea of a bare-footed amateur from India competing against Scottish professionals was difficult to believe. But Hasheem was persistent and the Celtic manager agreed to give him a trial. Salim was asked 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 determined to return to India.
Majumdar was told by Salim’s son Rashid, who lives in Calcutta: “Celtic tried to persuade my father to stay by offering to organise a charity match in his honour, giving him five per cent of the gate proceeds. My father did not realise what five per cent would amount to and said he would give his share to orphans who were to be special invitees for the match. Five per cent came to £1,800 [colossal money then] but although my father was astonished, he kept to his word.”
Many years later Rashid wrote to Celtic stating that his father was in distress and he needed money for his father’s treatment.
Rashid said: “I had no intention of asking for money. It was just a ploy to find out if Mohammed Salim was still alive in their memory. To my amazement, I received a letter from the club. Inside was a bank draft for £100. I was delighted, not because I received the money but because my father still holds a pride of place in Celtic. I have not even cashed the draft and will preserve it till I die.”
Majumdar says Rashid has kept the cheque and a Celtic green and white jersey as a memory of his father’s days at Parkhead.