4/14/2019 1:34:31 PM (GMT+3)

Football mein Bengal kahan chala gya, kisi ko nahin maloom: Shabbir Ali

Football mein Bengal kahan chala gya, kisi ko nahin maloom: Shabbir Ali

HYDERABAD, India: Shabbir Ali calls out tea boy Tanvir, “Mera pani ka packet aur biscuit le aa (get my water and biscuits).

At his late brother’s tea stall across the small dust-filled Darul Sifa ground near Salar Jung Museum where he kick-started his football journey, the former India captain dipped Osmania biscuit in Irani chai (tea) and rued the dwindling fortune of Calcutta clubs.

Cricket ko nahin blame kar raha hoon (I don’t blame cricket). They’ve packaged the sport well. Football mein Bengal kahan chala gya, kisi ko nahin maloom,” said the former star on the decline of Calcutta teams.

In the recently-concluded I-League, Mohun Bagan had finished third while East Bengal, Ali's first club in Calcutta, came fourth. 

Ali blossomed as a footballer with Abbas Union and played in an era in Calcutta when it was Bengal’s No.1 sport. The Hyderabadi scored 35 international goals and is one of India’s all-time top scorers along with Chuni Goswami, Pradip Kumar Banerjee, Inder Singh, Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri.

“Football has no planning in Bengal. Grassroot programmes aren’t there in Calcutta. Para football is finished. In our days, banks, railways offered jobs. Today, there’s no government support,” he explained.

Ali has spent 25 years in Calcutta. He loves the city and still enjoys a huge fan following on FB, but hardly anybody recognises him in his home-town barring a couple of his fans, who dropped in at the roadside shop. They shook hands and reminded Ali of his halcyon days.

See how ISL has marketed the sport. East Bengal, Mohun Bagan fans have stopped going to the ground because the clubs have failed to maintain its aura. Sponsors would’ve lined up, if the clubs were professional,” said Ali, who had stints at East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting from late 70s to 80s.

There’s a photo frame on the wall — Ali receiving the 2011 Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement from former President Pratibha Patil. His face lit up upon mentioning that his sharp ‘headers’ always posed a challenge or two to the top defenders and goalkeepers.

In September, 2013, he survived a massive heart attack at his Allahabad Bank branch office at Mission Row in Calcutta.

“I’ve returned from Calcutta. My family doesn’t allow me to stay there anymore. Thanks to the Almighty, my life was saved,” said Ali, who recently coached Telengana in the Santosh Trophy zonal tournament.

After retirement, he coached Salgaocar with distinction and served as Technical Director of the national team.

“ATK has promoted their brand so well in the schools. The kids and families have turned up to watch them,” added Ali, who also guided Bengal to Santosh Trophy titles in 2010 and 2011. (Pic credit: Subir Mukherjee)