Nostalgia galore as AIFF honour India’s 1974 youth team heroes in Kolkata

Excellent fighting spirit helped us punch above our weight, captain Shabbir Ali recalls

Shabbir Ali, captain of India's 1974 youth team, receives the memento from Kalyan Choubey (photo: AIFF)
Shabbir Ali, captain of India's 1974 youth team, receives the memento from Kalyan Choubey (photo: AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A strong sense of nostalgia about Indian football in its glory days of the Sixties and Seventies is in the air. The latest Bollywood release Maidaan has tried to capture the back story of triumph against odds in the 1962 Asian Games under legendary coach S.A. Rahim, while the All India Football Federation (AIFF) celebrated the golden jubilee of the Indian youth team’s historic feat at the 1974 AFC Youth Championship in Bangkok.

It's been 50 years to the date since the Under-20 Indian team, led by Shabbir Ali, pulled off a 2-2 draw with powerhouse Iran to emerge as joint winners of the event. While quite a few members of that gifted squad have passed away or are in ill health, the AIFF president Kalyan Choubey presented mementos to six members of the squad: captain and Dhyan Chand awardee Shabbir, CC Jacob, Dilip Palit, Shishir Guha Dastidar, Ranjit Das (Gobinda) and SP Kumar in a no-frills reception in Kolkata.

Arun Ghosh, the legendary defender and a member of the Class of 1962, was the coach of the youth team but could not be present owing to health reasons as his son-in-law received the memento on his behalf.

Members of 1974 squad line up at the AIFF reception in Kolkata
Members of 1974 squad line up at the AIFF reception in Kolkata
(photos: AIFF)

Speaking on the occasion, Chaubey said: “When I began my footballing journey, I had heard that the 1970s were a golden period in Indian football. I would like to convey my gratitude to Shabbir da for reminding me of April 30, 1974 so that we could celebrate the 50th anniversary of this famous victory.”

History, however, reminds the football buffs the other side of the coin – that of how India failed to convert their potential and folklore says they had let go a golden opportunity of participating in the 1950 Fifa World Cup. “For 48 years after India’s independence, we never focused on utilising the Fifa friendly windows, Fifa World Cup or even to collaborate with the world of football. As per the then-policy (1948 to 1998) decisions, we chose not to look beyond the Olympics and the Asian Games,’’ Chaubey said.

Shabbir, an astute striker in his playing days who proved his worth in the colours of Big Three of Kolkata football and went on to coach the national team in different hats, raised an appeal from the dais if the AIFF can help the surviving members of the 1974 squad. ‘’We will keep this in mind and try to help our past heroes within our limits,’’ the AIFF boss later told the media on the sidelines of the event.

 “It was the excellent fighting spirit during that tour which helped us punch above our weight. Most of us were playing international football for the first time, so it was a new experience for us. Playing in front of such crowds was also something that was new to many of us,” he said.

“I remember that our daily allowance was not much back in the junior team so our team manager would get us all together and make morning coffee for everyone, every day we were in Thailand,” recalled Shabbir. “These may be small gestures, but they go a long way, especially when you’re dealing with players of a certain age group.’’

The AIFF president, meanwhile, elaborated on the federation’s efforts to nurture the stars of the future. “We have been working with FIFA on building various academies across the country so that we can get back to that level once again. We have already started the AIFF-FIFA Academy in Bhubaneswar, and if footballing stalwarts like Arsene Wenger are involved in processes like talent identification and growth, then we can definitely play the FIFA U-17 World Cup on merit soon,” Chaubey added.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines