In the early ‘50s, a young man, tall, fair, and of athletic build, used to call at our Barkatpura residence to look up Rushi, my brother, over a cup of tea. They talked about football and nothing else. I remember these meetings though I was only ten at that time.
The handsome guy, I learned years later, was Syed Abdul Latif, a famous football player who had played for India in international tournaments. He lived in Barkatpura. He had played for Hyderabad during its golden era (mid-40s to mid-60s) when its players were part of the Indian contingent for the Olympics and other international events.
Many sports-loving youngsters of today, familiar with the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar may not know that back home, fans had their soccer icons who had made Hyderabad and the country proud with their sterling performances on the field. Syed Khaja Moinuddin, S.K. Aziz, Noor Mohammed, Mohd. Habib, Latif, Mohd. Zulifiqaruddin, T. Balaram, and Peter Thangaraj may be mere names today, but they have won the hearts of football lovers across the country with their dazzling display. About half a dozen of our players were in the Indian team for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where it finished fourth – a creditable performance.
Before we talk about the golden era of Hyderabad football, let us see how crazy football fans those days were. I have a hazy memory of one of the grand receptions accorded to the victorious Hyderabad City Police team. The players were taken out in a royal procession through the main streets, the glittering trophy mounted on a decorated lorry followed by individual players in open-top jeeps, each carrying the name prominently for the fans to identify. Capping it all was the police band in attendance..
Here is another example of football frenzy, recorded by Novi Kapadia, sports journalist and chronicler: The 1950 Durand Cup (held for the first time after independence) final, established the Hyderabad City Police as a formidable force in Indian Football. In that final against Mohun Bagan, they trailed two goals to none but came back heroically through a Laiq goal to equalize in the dying seconds of the match. He wrote:” Thousands of fans invaded the ground and mobbed and chaired Laiq. Some enthusiastic fans even kissed him and an over-exuberant fan in his eagerness to congratulate his hero bit him on the cheek, Poor Laiq reached the dressing room with blood flowing down his face. He had to miss the replay his team won 1-0.”
Let us check the record of the star-studded Hyderabad Police team. Whether it was the State team for the Nationals or any other tournament, the players were the same. Football and the Hyderabad City Police team were synonymous. The game received liberal patronage from the Nawabs. Within years of its formation, the City Police team left its imprint, winning the Ash Cup in 1943. It also challenged the indomitable Mohun Bagan, East Bengal Club, and Mohammedan Sporting of Calcutta by winning the Durand Cup against Mohun Bagan in 1950. It went on to win in the next 15 years all the major trophies worth the name – Durand Cup four times, Rovers Cup (five times in a row), Santosh Trophy (3 times), Stafford Cup, etc. It won 13 of the 15 tournaments it participated in in 1950 and the Santosh Trophy (national tournament), Rovers, and Durand in 1957, and remained Hyderabad league champions for 11 years in a row. Hyderabad produced four Arjuna awardees, 15 Olympians, and many internationals.
The story of Hyderabad football is not complete without reference to the pioneering contribution of Norbert Andrew Fruvall, captain of the team in the pre-independence era, and S. A. Rahim, legendary coach, and organizer from 1951 till his death in 1963. Rahim was twice coach of the Indian team that won Asian Games gold medals. Fruvall gave a superlative performance against the Royal Air Force in 1943. The host team trailed nil-one, but defender and captain Fruvall turned the fortunes with two late goals to post the victory.
My late brother Rushi (D. H. Kesava Rao, sports reporter, The Indian Express) resurrected memories of Hyderabad sporting greats in a series of articles in the Sunday Standard ( Sunday edition of The Indian Express) in the early 60s.
Even in the early 80s, one saw sizeable crowds watching a league football match at Secunderabad Gymkhana instead of a Ranji match next door. Football has fallen in bad times. Let us hope it rises from the ashes like the phoenix.