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Football story of what was, cricket’s the buzz

A month into their Liberation Movement, Bangladesh made a statement through football. In April 1971, Mohammad Zakharia Pintu led the first-ever Bangladesh side to a 2-2 draw in a friendly against a Krishnagore XI in Bengal’s Nadia district, reports Nilankur Das.

sports Updated: Jan 08, 2010 23:11 IST
Nilankur Das

A month into their Liberation Movement, Bangladesh made a statement through football. In April 1971, Mohammad Zakharia Pintu led the first-ever Bangladesh side to a 2-2 draw in a friendly against a Krishnagore XI in Bengal’s Nadia district.

Pintu and the late Noni Basak, then-coach, led the team out for a lap of honour with the Bangladesh national flag. That is said to be the first time the national flag flew on foreign soil. India and the world hadn’t yet recognised the country.

“I was very young and we all thought now that the fight for liberation has begun, this was the best way we could join the cause. We wanted to make a statement that we were not refugees, that we would be liberated one day. The money from the match went to the refugee camps,” said Bangladesh Football Federation president Kazi Salahuddin, a striker in that team and the country’s first professional player.

So, although football is slowly but surely losing ground to glamorous cricket, it remains close to the Bangladeshi’s heart. People who have grown up with Bangladesh’s Language and Liberation movements don’t tire talking of football’s connect with them. It’s quite like people in Kolkata associating Mohun Bagan’s IFA Shield victory in 1911 as part of their defiance of the Raj.

If football between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal remains the epitome of rivalry in Kolkata, for Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting and Abahani Krirachakra, now called the Abahani Limited, it extends to cricket and hockey also. Some of this rivalry also spills into politics. Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting supporters usually back Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, just as Abahani fans are usually PM Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League loyalists.

Presently, the clubs share the top slot in the B-League with seven wins from as many games. The two are also major contributors of players in the national team. Abahani also has its own ground too but like Kolkata’s age-old rivals, youth development is conspicuous by its absence.

“We don’t have the infrastructure or a proper academy. It’s difficult for youngsters to learn. We came into football playing age-group tournaments in the districts. But the game has changed now and it needs a lot of other things as well,” said Abahani and Bangladesh player Enamul Haque, who scored four goals in last month’s SAFF Cup here that India won.

Mohammedan Sporting do not have their ground and other things like their namesake in Kolkata. Evading questions on development programmes and infrastructure, an official boasted: “We got a few players from Abahani this time.”

Relying mostly on poaching to strengthen rosters isn’t restricted to clubs with the richest history in Indian football.