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Nahari, foreigners and Delhi football

A view of Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi

A visit to the Ambedkar Stadium for Durand Cups and DCM Trophys (in the mid-90s both these events used to be held in thick foggy winters) introduced me to some great football lovers and officials from the Walled City. During the outrageously cold evenings, a plate of hot and spicy nahari with crispy tandoori roti and intense discussions on Delhi’s football, I always looked forward to.

After the matches used to get over in the evenings, we used to head straight to Kallu’s dilapidated shop at Chattan Lal Mian, Jama Masjid, just behind Delite Cinema. We sat alongside men in skullcaps and pajamas and discussed Delhi clubs, the past, present and future.

Delhi may not have enjoyed a place of pride among the very best of Indian football states — Bengal, Goa, Kerala, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh. But over the past 100 years, the Capital has been the scene of some intense club football.

Nowadays, we’re getting to hear and see lot of foreigners plying their trade in Calcutta and Goan leagues. But there was a time when Delhi too boasted of lot of quality Indian and foreign players. But many of us wouldn’t know them because there is no concrete literature on Delhi football.

Most clubs were based in Old Delhi. The Partition had a debilitating effect on the country but Delhi’s football also suffered a huge setback. But soon after the situation became normal, the game was revived thanks to the Muslims, Bengalis and Punjabis who were the most dominant and influential communities in club football.

Young Men Sports Club is the oldest football club in the Capital and was formed in 1895. Mughals Sports Club was founded in 1905 with its headquarters at the Parade Ground opposite Red Fort.

In one of their souvenirs I possess, there is a photograph of former India cricket captain, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi (Senior), who also donned the Mughals colours.

Some eminent names in Delhi football history include Usman Jaan, the legendary goalkeeper who led Delhi to Santosh Trophy triumph. City Club’s Shujaat Ashraf, father of current Delhi U-13 team coach Aftab Ashraf, was a gifted footballer with wonderful dribbling skills. The senior Ashraf also played for Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal. Aziz Quereshi, also of City, represented India juniors in the 60s. Santosh Kashyap, who coached Air India and Mohun Bagan, played for Moonlight and India while current national team captain, Sunil Chhetri, made his debut for City.

In the 1980s and earlier, lot of foreign players represented various Delhi clubs. Some of them came from Iran, Thailand and Yugoslavia. Perkins, a six-feet-tall Englishman, played for President’s Estate in the 1960s as a goalkeeper. A Yugoslav striker, Milan Zikic, the son of an embassy official, played for BB Stars. Panachet, an acrobatic goalkeeper who hailed from Thailand, played with distinction for City Club. Kim, a South Korean, played for Mughals as a forward and earned a name for himself.

Even Nigerian Emeka Ezeugo, who made his debut with East Bengal in the mid-eighties and later played in the 1994 World Cup, represented Indian Nationals in few matches during his student days in Chandigarh.

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1978 spurred a refugee rush from the strife-torn country to the Capital. Some of the Afghans also dabbled in the game while they turned out for Delhi clubs. In the 1985 season, Moonlight had Mohammed Zahir, an outstanding striker. It also had Ghafoor, a pacy left-winger and Yasin who was a midfielder.

But the number of foreigners dwindled after 1991 when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) changed rules for foreign players that required them to furnish NOC from their respective countries.

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