It was the 1970s we kids staying in Walker Town (now Padmarao Nagar) often met Mohammed Zulfaqaruddin or Zulfaqar Uncle with a football trying to engage/encourage us to play the game.
His nephews Basith and Javed were our friends. They lived in a big bungalow, a joint family, cultured, friendly and sportive. Walker Town was then had bungalows, independent houses, huge playgrounds and a great place to grow up.
On every Sunday and holidays Zulfaqar Uncle would get the football, bring his nephews along and exhibit a few tricks of the game. But beyond a few kicks and listening to Zulfaqar talk about the game, somehow many of us did not take to it. Neither did we realise that he was a legend in Indian Football.
The lure was towards cricket. During the 1970s to 1990s Walker Town Cricket team got into leagues and one player made it to India Test XI too in the mid 1980s—Bobjee or M V Narasimha Rao, under whose captaincy Hyderabad won the Ranji Trophy after 4 decades. Bobby Rao is now settled in Ireland having made a mark in coaching the national team there.
Zulfaqar, the Olympian
During those days I never realised the great achievement of the soft spoken Mohammed Zulfaqaruddin, who was working in the AP Police. In fact, a little bit of fear did creep in sometimes as Policeman were sometimes referred to locally as Khatmal (bedbug) to drive scare among kids.
It was only when I became a Journalist with PTI in 1983 and was also reporting sports events that the greatness of Zulfaqar, the footballer, who represented India in the Melbourne Olympics of 1956 dawned. India finished fourth losing to Bulgaria 0-3 in the bronze medal match.
Zulfaqar was often transferred to different locations and districts on his job. Hence, there was a disconnect and periodic appearances in the colony. I rediscovered him in 1984 with a programme for Yuva Vani in All India Radio Hyderabad on the heroes of Hyderabad football. That programme took me back to Zulfaqar, Azizuddin, Latif, Noor Mohammed, Balram, Yusuf Khan, Mohammed Salaam etc., who were all part of the great Indian teams at the Melbourne Olympics, Tokyo Asian Games etc. where the country achieved the best ever.
To my utter shock, I found most of these legends of Indian football of those times struggling. They just did not get the reward for their sterling performances. The AP Police team which they represented was national champs for years winning the Durand Cup, Rovers Cup etc.
In the next few decades, there have been many write-ups and stories on their exploits, but somehow, many passed away with just accolades and sympathies, without getting their due recognition. The Nizam’s Gold Cup was a major national tournament from Hyderabad. There were a handful of national players that Hyderabad produced later, including two India captains—Mohammad Shabbir and Victor Amalraj. In addition, the brothers Habib and Akbar and Nayeemuddin among others brought laurels.
In the passing away of Zulfaqar on January 13, 2019, at the age of 83, perhaps the era of the greats has ended. The Melbourne Olympics team had 6 players from Hyderabad. “What a player Zulfaqar was. He had the knack of dribbling through the opponent’s defence without getting into serious tackles and more often than not his shots used to end up in goals”, recalled V Srivatsa, former Sports Editor of Times of India.
To quote noted sports writer Novy Kapadia: the precocious teenager Zulfaqar (a couple of months older than Balaram) in the Melbourne Olympic squad was named the 17th member. But due to financial constraints the All India Football Federation (AIFF) wanted him to be dropped. S A Rahim, the legendary coach was adamant that Zulfaqar, renowned for his powerful shots and crisp volleys, should travel to Melbourne. Rahim made the ultimate sacrifice and offered to drop out from the squad to accommodate Zulfaqar. He said that the captain, manager and senior players knew his tactics and they could choose the playing eleven at the Melbourne Olympics.
“Pankaj Gupta was aghast at such a suggestion and agreed to let Zulfaqar travel to the Olympics. It would have been a travesty to drop Zulfaqar that year as he was in sparkling form. He had excelled in the training camps held that year, two in Calcutta and the final one in Bombay. Also in the final trial match between Hyderabad and Bengal, which the former won 3-0, Zulfaqar had excelled,” Novy recalled.
Zulfaqar started his career with Hyderabad Sporting Club in 1954 before joining the State Police Department. He honed his skills under the late S.A. Rahim, among the finest coaches of his time. From 1955 to 1967, Zulfaqar captained the Andhra Pradesh team at the nationals and AP Police teams which won the Durand Cup and Rovers Cup. His performance got him a berth in the Indian team for the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia. He also represented the country in the 1958 Asiad in Tokyo.
Truly and rightly Hyderabad was one of the cradles of football post independence for at least 4 decades thanks to talented players like Zulfaqar, who grew with sheer determination. There were spacious grounds, encouragement from the public and administration. Bolarum, Goshamahal stadium, Osmania University, Nizam College, Police stadia all had good football grounds.
Perhaps, it’s time to revisit and recreate a bit of the old Hyderabadi zeal into this fast paced game that is today the most popular, watched by multimillion audiences on television and mobile and followed in the world.