With the emergence of a host of foreign forwards through out the domestic league in India, one ponders upon the fate of the Indian forwards in the national scheme of things. With the clubs ruthlessly after instant success – they have, in most cases, opted for the more physically stronger and technically astute foreign recruits for their striking roles – which, in return, has meant that there has hardly been any quality forward coming out of the local system. A living testament to that is our very own national team – which has been limited to a bunch of a very few decent forwards at this moment of time.
However, things weren’t always the same for the larger part of India’s footballing history – especially in the run in to its ‘Golden Era’ – the era of the 50s and the 60s – when the boys in blue orchestrated their way through the epitome of Asian football and gathered the might to challenge any footballing heavy-weight around the world!
On a fine July morning, when Sahoo Mahadeoram, a resident of Daulatapur, Bihar, learned of the birth of his baby boy from mother Kusumi Devi, little did he know then the “catalyst” of this very footballing revolution had finally seen the light of his own motherland. They named him Sahoo Mewalal, after the name of his family legacy!
The signs of the early talent were eminent; if not very obvious – as the fairly built boy dribbled and ran around the banks of the Khuri river, with a mere seed of a ‘tar’ tree. The control and command over it was breathtaking; eye-catching for a barely 12 year old!
In 1937, his father moved to Calcutta, as he was instated as an employee of the Fort William – young Mewalal followed his father. Soon his footballing pedigree was to be noticed as one fine day he caught the eye of a certain Sergeant Burnet. He decided to nurture the raw talent as he guided him into the Morning Star Club.
Having initially started at the ‘right in’ position, it was here that he was made to realize that his impeccable shooting technique and his sound physique was just about ideal for a more central role – the role of a centre forward; the team’s ultimate outlet for goal.
The following year, Mewalal moved on to greener pastures as he appeared for the Napier club and the laurels soon followed him as he scored an important goal against the Grear Sporting Club to force a draw for his team. It was his first goal at top level football and he truly made his mark.
Soon after, with the renowned Khiddirpore club he represented in the 2nd division of the Calcutta League, he slowly but steadily made his presence felt into the local footballing circuit. In 1944, in an exhibition match between IFA XI and the India XI , Mewalal was selected for the federation team and he instantly shot into limelight scoring the winning goal to upset the national team.
The Aryan Club, a then-heavyweight, came calling for him and Sahoo signed for them the following season. It was his hattrick for Aryans in the same year against Mohun Bagan in a Calcutta league match that impressed the then India and Mohun Bagan captain Sailen Manna and in 1946 he joined Mohun Bagan under Manna.
He continued his legacy as a journey man as the very next year he again changed clubs and joined Eastern Railway. He was here when he made it to the barefooted national team, which crafted their way through to the 1948 London Olympics. In what was India’s first official match, Mewalal and the boys came agonizingly close in upsetting the mighty French national team as they lost out 2-1 on a final minute winner from Rene Persillon. In what was a pretty lacklustre match, the Indians missed a couple of penalties during the course of the end to end battle.
However, Mewalal made amends months later as the national team embarked on an European tour, where the Blue Tigers thrashed the likes of Denmark, Austria and even Germany in a series of unofficial ties. In the four matches he played, Mewalal recorded for an impressive tally of six goals.
His footballing skills were now there for the whole nation to see, and fans filled in into the stadiums everytime he set foot on the pitch – an incredibly agile player with acrobatic fitness, he made the “bicycle kick” his own – which eventually made him a poster boy for the die hard fans!
In the next couple of years, Mewalal was nothing less than prolific in the national team’s continental tours in Afghanistan and Burma. However, it was in 1951 that Mewalal achieved his biggest feat in his footballing career, as he scored the lone goal and the winner against Iran to lead India to the gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games in New Delhi. Infact, the 25 year old managed to score in every match India played during the tournament.
He unfortunately couldn’t make it to 1956 Olympic team, which historically reached the semi-finals of the tournament and while playing in an Inter-Railway tournament in Kharagpur two years later, he met with a career-ending injury as his knee was broken to pieces; thus eventually bringing an end to his illustrious 20 year old career.
In what could challenge even the great Brazilian Romario, Mewalal had said to have scored a staggering 1032 goals through out his career in First Class and National and International tournaments, which also included 32 hattricks!
In a country where greats are often forgotten down the memory lane, Mewalal was unfortunately the victim of this very trait. In 2008, when he suffered from pneumonia & his grandson Vivek Lal took him to the renowned SSKM Hospital in Kolkata, the authorities refused to grant him admission. It was only after local area counselor Mr Faiyaz Ahmed Khan persuaded for an entry that he was finally allowed treatment but it was all too little too late, as India’s greatest striker breathed his final breath on 27th December 2008, thus leaving behind a massive void in the Indian footballing history!