Skip to main content

Top footballer Habib an 'example' of how, except cricket, other games occupy backseat

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed* 

A football enthusiast, I was witness to Mohammed Habib's wily goal for Mohammedan Sporting FC against Bank of Seoul of South Korea in the DCM Football Cup final in 1980 at the Corporation Stadium (now Ambedkar Stadium), Delhi. 
Amidst a jungle of legs in the penalty box, he scored with waist bending and dodging three defenders, he thumped the left footer on the left side of the goalie. How the 20,000 odd crowd hailed the historic victory, is all history today. Baichung Bhutia, former Indian football team captain, with eyes welled up in tears, said, “My ideal and the soccer magician is gone!”
Passed away on August 15, Mohammed Habib, the playmaker par excellence of the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, who scored against Pele's New York Cosmos in Mohun Bagan colours and made the football icon take note of his game, will be remembered for as a cunning and clever forward bid farewell.
His goals were only seen after he netted the ball to the ghastly surprise of the goalie and confused defenders. For Andhra, in 1965, he won the Santosh Trophy against Bengal, the most formidable team those days. Subsequently in the 1969 Santosh Trophy, he scored five goals in Bengal's 6-1 win over Services, which still stands as a record, unbroken.
According to Atyab Siddiqui, a connoisseur of Indian football, states in his book, “The School at Ajmeri Gate”, “The legend that was Mohammed Habib, was never born to lose! In the seven seasons he played for East Bengal, Mohammed Habib scored the winning goals in three Durand Cup finals."
Habib scored unimaginable goals. A true professional, "Bade Miyan" -- as he was fondly remembered - was the best Indian forward of his times. A slick forward, an Arjuna awardee, he was a sure bet for the winning teams whether it was the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi, the Cooperage in Mumbai or the famed Maidans of Kolkata. Today, Habib survives in memories of his fans -- fortunate that he did not die unsung!
A couple of years ago, when I, along with his friend, Atyab, had met Habib at his residence in Hyderabad, though suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, he still appeared dignified and his wife requested us to speak to the then Sports Minister, Vijay Goel, for arranging an exhibition match for him where he is a hero.
I contacted the minister, who referred him to his secretary, who was given all the details of Habib. Nothing was done. Even the Arjuna Award stipend was discontinued. What is most lamenting is that except cricket, most other games occupy a backseat.
At Habib’s feet, the ball seemed to obey his command like a pet. Undoubtedly, he played with a kind of brilliant camouflage, seeming to be somnolent for long stretches before asserting himself at urgent moments with a mesmerizing dribble, astounding pass or stabbing shot. Though he was short and puny, his spinning shots carried immense power.
In 1970, when Habib played a notable part in the bronze medal-winning dream run in the Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand, he etched his name in the folklore of Indian Football as the best forward. Besides, he was a perfect schemer and could imagine the moves in his mind like a game of the chessboard. It was owing to his unassailable efforts that India became the joint winner of the Pesta Sukan Cup with South Vietnam in 1971.
On the internal front, while Habib played for Andhra, he even helped defeat Bengal in the Santosh trophy. He switched over from Hyderabad to Kolkata in 1966 when he joined East Bengal. He holds a unique record for playing for all the big three, that is, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting for the longest duration in totality.
The way he had been scoring goals, he became a living legend. His grit, determination and never-say-die attitude on the field inspired his contemporaries as well as generations of footballers. He was a man not given to temptations as he refused the ads and devoted his time d to the game, yet, he was recognized as a professional footballer.
Habib not only scored a goal in the historic exhibition match against New York Cosmos 2-2 but caught the attention of King Pele for his speedy change in positions to dodge the opponents and defy man-to-man marking at the Eden Garden that evening. 
Habib was one of the few players to win the Triple Crown (winning the IFA Shield, Durand Cup and Rovers Cup in the same season) for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in 1972 and 1977, respectively. Habib became a successful coach once he decided to hang up his famous number 10 jersey in 1982.
Having joined as the coach at Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur, he was instrumental in producing a number of footballers, who went on to don the National Team colours. Later, he coached Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, too. Habib won the Santosh Trophy on five occasions – 1965 (with Andhra Pradesh), 1969, 1971, 1972, and 1975 (with Bengal).
Habib also has the distinction of winning the Calcutta Football League 10 times (1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982), the Durand Cup five times (1967, 1970, 1972, 1977, 1982), the Rovers Cup seven times (1967, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1981), the IFA Shield four times (1970, 1972, 1973, 1974), and the Federation Cup twice (1978 and 1981) with clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting and Mohun Bagan.
Awards and rewards were bedecked upon Habib, with the Arjuna Award in 1980, the East Bengal Bharat Gaurav Award in 2015, and the prestigious “Banga Bibhushan” award in 2018, bestowed upon him by the Government of West Bengal.
The kind of dribbling magician that Habib was, his contributions to Indian football are endless, serving as the ideals for the football fraternity and posterity. The football legacy, shaped by his performances as a scorer, coaching acumen, and dedication to the sport, will continue to inspire generations of football enthusiasts.
As the nation mourns his sad demise, his memory will live on through the stories and achievements that have left an indelible imprint on the fabric of Indian football history.
*Former chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad



Lip-service on World Environment Day vs 'watered-down' eco-safeguards

By Shankar Sharma*  Just a few days ago, the world remembered the routinely forgotten global environment on the occasion of World Environment Day, briefly though, maybe just for the day. There were reports of a few high profile ceremonies in different parts of the country, including a few in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly asked the people of our country to plant one tree per each person as a mark of respect/ gratitude for our mothers.

'Attack on free expression': ABVP 'insults' Udaipur professor for FB post

Counterview Desk   People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan, condemning what it called "insult of Professor Himanshu Pandya" by students affiliated with with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP) in Udaipur, has said he was evicted from the class where he was teaching after raising "ugly slogans", forcing him to "leave the university".

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Pellet gun fire severely injures Dalit worker off Bangladesh border

By Kirity Roy*  This is regarding an incident of firing pellets by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel attached with Panchadoji Border Outpost of ‘E’ Company of 90 BSF Battalion on a Schedule Caste youth of village Parmananda under Dinhata Police Station of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The victim was severely injured and one portion of his face became disfigured due to pellet firing by the BSF.

Moving towards sustainable development? Social, environmental implications of HCES data

By Dr Vandana Sehgal, Dr Amandeep Kaur*  Sustainable development, the high time agenda, encompasses economic, social, and environmental dimensions, aiming for a balance between all these aspects to ensure long-term well-being and prosperity for all. One of the crucial aspects of sustainable development is consumption patterns. Consumption patterns refer to the way individuals, households, and societies use resources and goods. Sustainable consumption patterns entail using resources efficiently, minimizing waste, and considering the environmental and social impacts of consumption choices.

Sanction to persecute Arundhati Roy under UAPA politically motivated: PUCL

Counterview Network  Top human rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, has demanded that the authorities should immediately withdraw the prosecution against top author Arundhati Roy and Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir academic, under the " unconstitutional"  Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act  (UAPA), calling the Delhi  Lieutenant-Governor nod for the Delhi police move "politically motivated".

Heatwave in Bundelkhand: 'Inadequate attention' on impact on birds, animals

By Bharat Dogra, Reena Yadav*  While the heat wave and its many-sided adverse impacts have been widely discussed in recent times, one important aspect of heat waves has not received adequate attention and this relates to the impact on birds and animals.