THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Sunil & Jeje – The heirs of Mohammed Salim?

Mohammed Abdul Salim - Sunil Chhetri - Jeje Lalpekhlua

Mohammed Abdul Salim - Sunil Chhetri - Jeje Lalpekhlua

Football fans in India are really excited with Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua having trials with Scottish giants Rangers FC. The two India strikers arrived in Glasgow on Friday and they are expected to train with the Rangers for a week. But Sunil and Jeje are not the first Indians trying to win the hearts of Scottish football fans…

Only a few fans remember the name of a footballer from Kolkata, who turned to be the first Indian footballer to sign a deal with a European club: It’s the extraordinary story of Mohammed Abdul Salim!

Mohammed Salim was born in Kolkata in 1904 and he became a popular footballer in the mid-1930s, when he played for Mohammedan Sporting Club. The winger impressed football fans with his barefooted skills and speed.

Salim was invited to play two friendly matches against the Chinese Olympic team in 1936. Salim’s cousin Hasheem, who lived in England, attended the first match held in Kolkata and he was delighted to see the skills of his relative. Hasheem thought his cousin had the capability to play in Europe and he convinced Salim to travel with him to England.

The 32-year old winger skipped the second friendly match against China and travelled to London with his cousin. Both lads spend a few days in the capital before continuing their journey to the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Hasheem took Salim to Celtic Park and showed him the level of football in Scotland in those days. Hasheem asked his cousin, if he would be able and willing to compete at this level. Salim didn’t hesitate and said he would be up to the task to have a try.

Hasheem went to Celtic manager Willie Maley and convinced him to have a look at Salim and his talent. “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,” Hasheem told Maley according to the records.

The Celtic manager agreed to give him a trial after careful consideration. Salim was asked to demonstrate his skill before 1,000 club members and three registered coaches.

Salim needed to deliver and he delivered perfectly! Salim’s ability, even in bare feet, astonished the manager, club members and coaches. Celtic decided to play him in a match against Hamilton, which they won 5-1.

Salim impressed in the match against Hamilton and he was given a second chance to play for Celtic against Galston. Celtic won the match 7-1 and Salim was once again the best player on the pitch.

Scottish media nicknamed him “The Indian Juggler” and they were full of praise for the Indian footballer.

“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,” the Scottish Daily Express wrote in their newspaper dated August 29, 1936.

The Glasgow Observer wrote about the Galston match on September 5, 1936: “Abdul Salim, Celtic’s Indian international trialist, tickled the crowd at Celtic Park on Friday with his magnificent ball manipulation. In his bare feet he was a conspicuous figure but this was further emphasised by his dark skin against the white and green of the Celtic strip. His play was top class. Every ball he touched went exactly to the place he wanted it to. Not one inch was it out. His crosses into goal were simply shrieking to be nodded into the net. I wouldn’t like to have calculated the score had McGrory been playing. […] Dawson missed a penalty kick which Salim, despite the invitation of Alex Miller, refused to take.”

It seemed like Salim could turn into the new star in Scottish football. But however, after a few months in Scotland, Salim began to feel homesick and was determined to return to India.

But on the other side, Celtic was also determined to keep Salim in Glasgow and they tried to persuade Salim to stay.

Celtic offered “The Indian Juggler” a charity match in his honour and promised him 5% of the gate proceeds, which would have been £1,800 – a colossal amount of money in those days. Salim didn’t realise what five per cent would amount to and he refused to play the match according to his son Rashid. Salim asked the club to give his share to orphans who were to be special invitees for the match.

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.”

Seventy-five years after Celtic brought the first Indian player to Europe, Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua have arrived in Glasgow to have trials with rivals Rangers FC.

It will be interesting to see how their story will be told in seventy-five years from now…


Please check for further updates on the trials and LIKE for exclusive updates on the Hamburger SV vs Rangers FC match.


QUICK FACTSMohammed Abdul Salim

Date of Birth

Place of Birth
Kolkata, India

Date of Death
November 5, 1980

Place of Death
Kolkata, India

Playing position

Number of ‘A’ Internationals

‘A’ Internationals Goals

Chittaranjan Football Club, Kolkata
Mohammedan Sporting Club, Kolkata
Sporting Union, Kolkata
East Bengal Club, Kolkata
Aryans Club, Kolkata
Mohammedan Sporting Club, Kolkata
Celtic FC, Glasgow
Mohammedan Sporting Club, Kolkata

Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy State Award (1976)

Please check for further updates on the trials and LIKE for exclusive updates on the Hamburger SV vs Rangers FC match.

(Article written with excerpts/input from a write-up by Mihir Bose in the Daily Telegraph)