SAMAD: FOOTBALL WIZARD OF INDIA

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Never before has a family member portrayed a close-up of the Football Wizard Samad; never shall such a fascinating account be written again, for, alas, the author is no more among us. This article
by the Late (Professor) S. A. Nasar is a first-hand account of his uncle Syed Abdus Samad, Football Wizard of the barefoot footballing era of British India.

Submitted: June 23, 2018

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Submitted: June 23, 2018

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SAMAD: FOOTBALL WIZARD OF INDIA

By

Late (Professor) S. A. Nasar

(1912 – 1987)

 

Presented by author’s son

Babul Nasar

Important note by the Presenter:

Never before has a family member portrayed a close-up of the Football Wizard Samad; never shall such a fascinating account be written again, for, alas, the author is no more among us. It is a must-read memoir for football lovers and sports historians.

Football fans should remember the legends who founded football in the Indian subcontinent, more so during the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018, Russia.

This article by Late (Professor) S. A. Nasar is a first-hand account of his uncle Syed Abdus Samad, Football Wizard of the barefoot footballing era of British India. The Author had played in the laps of Samad, learnt to play sport under his patronage, and played football and other games with Uncle Samad.

Late (Professor) Syed Abu Nasar aka S.A. Nasar had written this article in 1983-1985. He breathed last in 1987. His son Babul Nasar retrieved this memoir from unpublished articles archived in old files of his father Late (Professor) S.A. Nasar.

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IMG_20180613_131315%20(2).jpg

A rare picture: Samad sitting extreme right

(i.e. Picture viewer's left hand side)

(Contributor: Saadia Azim, Purnia/Kolkata, grand-niece of Samad)

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Samad: In later years

(Contributor: A.R.M. Tayabur Rahman, Dhaka, grand-nephew of Samad)

***

 

Birth at Village Bhuri, Burdwan

Syed Abdus Samad, popularly as the 'Football ka Jadoogar', the ‘Magician of Football’ was born at Middaypara muslim section of village Bhuri, Police Station Galsi, a few miles from Burdwan (now Barddhaman) town in the then Bengal (of the then British India), which included the current State of Bihar and incidentally the present districts of Purnia (also spelt as Purnea) and Katihar.

He came of the Syeds of Khanpokhar (Burdwan), a well known and respected family of aimadars.

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Baby Samad brought to Purnia

Four weeks after he saw light at his maternal grandfather’s village home on the 6th December 1895, he was brought to Moulvitola, Purnia, now in Bihar, where his father Syed Fazlul Bari and the elder Uncle Syed Ali Naqi, in Government service had settled down. The family had been living in that plot since the pre-mutiny days, prior to the first war of independence as a great-grandfather had been posted as Sadre Alaa, one of the highest judicial posts open to 'natives'. Samad's father later on moved across the road to the present Bari House, where his nephews still live.

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Samad growing up

Samad grew up under the shadow of two big jackfruit trees, which though bodily mutilated by the ravages of time still survive. There under the benign shadow of the trees and the watchful eyes of his six-foot-plus Uncle Naqi, a bearded giant in his Fez cap, whose figure old timers of Purnia and Katihar are not likely to forget, and father Fazlul Bari, a stocky and tough man - both fine swimmers and strong men in their student days.

As the future pride and puzzle of Indian football played with any round object, a jackfruit or even a brick piece, he was joined one by one by his younger brothers Syed Abdul Bari, Syed Azizul Bari, Syed Rezaul Bari and of course by his older cousin Syed Abdus Salam, who all grew up into strapping six feet plus youths - a rare family group in Purnia of those days reputed as kalapani about which it was said, 'na zahar khao, na mahar khao; marna ho to Purnia jao', (one need not take poison or potion but only go to Purnia, should he wish to die). It was then, in this company that Samad grew up. Even to date no blade of grass grows under the jackfruit trees and the ground is as hard as a cemented surface.

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Samad in school

Samad joined the local Zila School (Purnia) with its big compound and the adjacent camping ground, which had several playgrounds in those days. He came under the influence of Headmaster Piyare Mohan Mookherji, a football fanatic, and as he stepped into his 'teens' began to play representative football in the company of stalwarts like Nitya Gopal Ghosh and Mana Mohan Sanyal (Mohan Bagan). Old timers at Bhagalpur (Bihar) are even today nostalgic about his scintillating displays during 1909-1911 enabling Purnia Zila School to win the then prestigious Fawcus Cup three years running. The lean, wiry youth was a bundle of energy. Where his friends walked he ran. When his brothers studied, he juggled with whatever round object he could get with his long feet and his prehensile toes. He dodged, feinted and swerved past imaginary opponents. It was this skill to juggle with the ball with both left and right feet that was to make his ball control unique in the annals of Indian football.

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Samad admired by all

Late in the nineteen-forties the writer was watching a tournament game at Sandy's Compound of Bhagalpur, the scene of many a memorable performance by Samad, that the late Niroj Ganguli (Mohan Bagan and I.F.A. of the twenties) gripped my arm excitedly and drew my attention to a player of my team, pointing at a six-footer lean lad dribbling with both his toes observing that he had not seen any player other than Samad  manipulate the ball like that, upon which I told that the  boy was Anwar, a grand-nephew of Samad,  and had learnt the trick under the same old jackfruit trees. I have come across hundreds of people all over India who have recalled one or two of Samad's favourite skills. The other day my son, along with another teacher of Bhagalpur University (now Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University), had been to Dumka (then Bihar; now Jharkhand). I had asked him to pay his respects to a ‘dadi-amma’ (grandmother) from Purnea, now settled at Dumka. To their amazement they heard spell-bound story after story about the exploits of Samad. The old lady was also from Bhuri, the birth-place of Samad, and been married to a teacher, residing at Bhatta Mohalla of Purnia.

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Career

No wonder Samad gave up studies early and accepted job in the E.B. Railway in 1912, only to resign three years after. Meanwhile he had come under the patronage of the Raja of Nazargange, the late P.C. La1, a great patron of sports and the owner of some of the finest race-horses and Raja Bahadur Kirtyanand of Banaily, a fine Shikari and author the book Purnea, a Shikarland.  

Samad made his first appearance at Calcutta in 1914 and continued to grace the Maidan except for short breaks till 1947 when he was apportioned as Station Superintendent to the section of E.B. Railway, which fell in the present Bangladesh. He served at Dacca (now spelt Dhaka), Chittagong, Ishurdi, Saidpur, Parbatipur etc. He had returned to railway service in 1920 and after a distinguished service of 36 years retired in 1956, to settle down at Parbatipur in the railway quarters which continued in his occupation through the generosity of a grateful railway whose prestige he had done so much to enhance. In 1949, the Parbatipur Railway Institute was christened Samad Institute in his honour. It is worthwhile recalling that North-Bengal had been Samad’s happy hunting ground since the second decade of the century.

***

Family

Samad was married to his cousin Syeda Qamrunnisa at Araria (Bihar) on October 12, 1917. The marriage was blessed with a daughter Syeda Rabea Khatoon and a son Syed Gholam Hossain, popularly known as ‘Bhotan’. Rabea died in her ‘teens’. The son grew up into a fine type of young man. Though nowhere near his father as a sportsman, he played plenty of competition football. He made his mark in his chosen field in the wilds of Assam as a renowned dare-devil Shikari, who had escaped death several times in the jungles of Assam and North Bengal. Bhotan died while he was leading a retired life at Lucknow and is survived by his wife (Burdwan) and two daughters.

***

Demise

Samad was appointed Chairman, Pakistan Sports Board and was awarded a gold medal for his services to sports in 1960. Alas! This darling of the football-loving crowds of the subcontinent, who had dodged past the best defences for decades and had fooled the best Englishmen with his magic foot-work at their own game, could not defy the ravages of death. The great Samad was laid to rest in January, 1964.

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Samad, the legend

Samad first played in 1914 but the football crazy crowd of Calcutta (now Kolkata) woke up and took note of Samad, the like of whom had never appeared in the football firmament, only when he joined the Tajhat team in 1919, and was almost single-handed responsible for taking the team to the semi-final of the I.F.A. - a distinction never again achieved by any other mofussil team of Bengal. Raja Gopal Lal Roy of Tajhat, now in Bangladesh, himself a fairly good player, had collected a band of good footballers and, of course, his prize acquisition was the mercurial Samad from Purnia. The Tajhat team was disbanded and was resuscitated as the now famous East Bengal Club. Samad had rejoined E. B. Railway service and appeared for this team till 1947, except for short breaks. The most notable was his appearance for the all-conquering Mohammadan Sporting team of 1934. In between, he played for Mohan Began in the Durand. He also played for the All Blues, which had the distinction of being the ?rst Indian team ever to reach the final stages of the Durand Tournament, a monopoly of crack English military teams, the matches being played almost twice the usual length of time in other tournaments. With Samad in its ranks, E.B. Railway achieved many distinctions, the most notable being the winning of the All-India Railways Championship three years running. E.B. Railway was in those days classified a European team and as such Samad was not eligible for selection as an Indian for the annual international. The rules had to be changed to accommodate him. Some of his memorable displays were for the Indians against the Europeans.

The tale goes round - may be apocryphal - that in one such encounter the Indians were trailing one goal behind with three minutes to go, when Pankaj Gupta drew Samad's attention and asked him to save the side. The sleeping lion in Samad was roused and in the dying minutes of the game he scored a couple of goals, all on his own. This tale is one of the many told by old Dadus (grandfathers) and is typical of the temperament of the moody Samad. Samad also played great football outside India, notably Ceylon 1924, Java 1926, Indonesia 1932 etc.

***

Author’s estimate of Samad

My estimate of the all-time great Samad is likely to be biased because of my family loyalty and the idolatrous her-worship of six decades. As I look down memory lane I do not feel like revising my opinion. I prefer to recall some observations by eminent sportsmen and journalists.

Pankaj Gupta writing about the great football players of India observed, ‘Of Samad the less said the better. Suffice it to say that on his day he would have walked into a world eleven’. Yes, on his day! For, Samad was unforgivingly moody and always unpredictable. My first glimpse of Samad in action was in 1918, when I accompanied him to Bhagalpur. Long before the match thousands had assembled in Sandy's Compound as the word had gone round that Samad had come. I was then too young to understand the excitement all round and as I watched him standing near the line supremely indifferent to boos and cheers alike, twirling his rebellious tooth-brush moustache, felt convinced that I was at least as good or even better in my age group if that meant match play. Then as if he had been bitten by a scorpion he sprung to life twice and dodged past the entire defence and tapped the ball past the goal keeper. I saw a maturer Samad again when he turned out for the Raja of Nazargange team in 1932, in a shield final at Bhagalpur. The team had been collected by his younger brother Azizul Bari and had in its rank players like Majid and Hamid of Dinapore then playing for East Bengal and Mohan Bagan respectively. The youthful shine was gone, he was past forty. A couple of years after I saw him turn up for an I.F.A. team in Khagaul in company of Majid, whose ball-control was legendary, and had the opportunity of noting the sea-difference in skill and style.  S. ‘Langcha' Mitra was another player in the thirties with amazing ball-control hut he was nowhere near Samad, even forgetting for the time his use of both feet and phenomenal reach of his lanky legs.

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‘The incredible Samad’

M.K. Chatterji, a great stalwart of Patna, spoke on the radio some years back after his retirement from the post of District Magistrate about ‘the incredible Samad’. Some years back Berry Sarbadhikari (Bijoy Chandra "Berry" Sarbadhikari), that prince among journalists and sports commentators, ranked Samad even better than Pele. Sarbadhikari had written an angry article in the Indian Nation from his Madhupur hideout denouncing the conditions in which past sportsmen were allowed to languish in our country in contrast to the treatment meted out to men like Pele. He had said, ‘yes, we had two Peles in Our country, Samad in Football and Dhyan Chand in Hockey. While the first died in penury in East Pakistan, the latter was spending his old age in poverty’.

A few months later Berry had come to Bhagalpur in connection with our staging of a Ranji Trophy match. We, taking advantage of his visit, had organized a Sports Seminar with him as the Chief Guest. My son (Babul Nasar) wanted to know on what grounds Berry considered Samad equal and even superior to Pele. Berry observed that Pele was essentially an athlete who had taken pains to rise, while Samad was a naturally gifted and born genius.

Travelling all over India in connection with University sports and literary meets I have been surprised to find admirers who have recalled this or that exploit of Samad with the greatest reverence. The other day Moni Mohan Ghosh of the famed Khazanchihat, George Telegraph and the old Patna University teams nostalgically put the question as to why defenders used to stagger and fall while Samad showed a clean pair of heels on the opposite side. The simple explanation was his amazing body-swerves which left the defender a1most mesmerised.

Some years ago a fried on study tour in England sent a cutting from an English daily in which a football fan joining an issue about the greatness of Sir Stanley Matthews wrote that in 1919 he had seen a tall, lean left-winger playing for Mohan Bagan juggling with the ball as if glued to his toes, and yet capable of amazing bursts of speed. Of course, the writer had confused Tajhat with Mohan Bagan. A Pele or a Matthews would certainly be incapable of such magic with the feet.

Samad was always boot-shy, in both senses. His gazelle-like long legs appeared incongruous in boots and also he was shy of a tough booted opponent. Was it a premonition of the fracture that he suffered when struck by a military boot while playing a league match in 1936 at Calcutta? He looked funny when in boots forced by the muddy Calcutta Maidan; Samad was usually a passenger on ‘muddy’ days.

***

Popularity

Samad's great popularity may be gauged from the following.

Once he had called with me at the residence of the then Chief Minister of Bengal, Fazlul Huque known as Sher-e-Bengal. Samad asked him to write an introduction to someone, I forget. Chief Minister Huque wrote, ‘I am introducing one who does not need any introduction, for, he is better known to every child and adult than Abul Quasem Fazlul Huque".

It used to be an ordeal to travel with him, since at every station the word seemed to have got round that Samad was in the train and people mobbed even small wayside stations as they do when a popular film star is on show. It had become a fashion among football fans to name their sons after him.

Many stories are told about how the Viceroy got down in Simla to greet him when he saw him on the Mall, or of the Australian lady who wondering at his skill touched his feet to find out if any contraption had been fitted to juggle with the ball.

Then there is the story told how the late Satkori of Purnia and company - many of us would travel to Calcutta to see him play for the India team in the annual International - requested him to secure the ball being used as a trophy for the Purnia Town Club. Samad asked the group to tell him some minutes before the end and when signalled Samad picked up the ball in midfield and kept on dribbling till the long whistle blew to collect the ball and over to his Purnia fans. Then there is the story of how he got the size or the field and the fittings checked after shooting thrice over the bar. The stories may be true or false but are illustrative of Samad's popularity.

It is said that a famous E.B. Railway and India player shot over the bar with all his might from a couple of yards, when all he had to do was to tap the ball past the keeper. An annoyed Samad said '0 he chokra, ek shotey do goal hoi na (0 you kid, you do not score two goals out of one shot). This was typical of his game, for he seldom shot hard, and simply loved to get past the goal keeper. He could use both legs with equal ease. The corner kicks he took would rise sky high and curl in at the last moment at the top corner of the far side goal post.

Once, the D.C.L.I., then the strongest military football outfit in India, was passing through Purnia. An eleven was hurriedly organised, and as luck would have it Samad was at Purnia. He was in devastating mood and twice after toying with the defence placed the ball for his younger colleagues M.R. Das Gupta (Feni) and Karim. To top this he scored two goals off corner kicks from both ?anks.

His usual position was outside left but to accommodate Fazlur Rahman or S. Chowdhury (both Mohan Bagan and I.F.A.) he used to switch over to either wing. In later years after the fracture he used to play a more constructive game, but essentially he was a loner who revelled in gallery-play chiefly to enjoy and as a sideproduct to entertain. The Katihar people might recall how playing, when well into his forties, with one of his grand-nephews, Taiyab, he ‘went mad’ (his own words on the shampony while we were returning home) and beat the Aryans by four goals, because he had bungled a controversial penalty awarded by the late S. (Panna) Mozumdar, who must be remembered by every Katihar sportsman of the thirties and forties.

***

Beacon for younger players 

Samad used to encourage promising players. A whole bunch of fine footballers right from Hira Sen (East Bengal), Rajen Ghosh and Monimohan Ghosh (George Telegraph), Noni Mitra and Kashinath Banerji (E.B. Railway), Anil Dey (Mohan Bagan and India), Amal Mozumdar (E.B. Railway and I.F.A.), Latif (Mohammedan Sporting and India), Bimal Mookherji (Sporting Union and I.F.A.), P. Mitra (Mohan Bagan and I.F.A.), to name only some, were directly or indirectly inspired by his fame. He was very appreciative of promising talents.

I recall Rashid turned up after his recovery (Rashid had his legs fractured a day before Samad's injury) when I along with some purnians, among whom was the then Amal (Nepu) Mozumdar were watching what proved to be the decider. The only goal scored was by the limping Hafiz Rashid, who like a flash swooped into a melee and lapped the ball past the goalie. Samad hobbled in his crutches, on to the field to embrace Rashid, observing that he alone in India could have scored that goal.

Perhaps few in Bihar know that contemporary with Samad there arose Purnia (Kishungunj) another star who shone in football firmament for decades and guided the fortunes of Mohan Bagan with his sage counsels - I mean Umapati Kumar. Kumar played inside left with Samad on many a great occasion but no two players could have been more unlike. Kumar played a team game while Samad was an individual to the core.

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All-round sportsman

Samad was an all-round sportsman. He was a fine Tennis player and could hold his own against the best in India. He played Cricket for his team till his last days at Calcutta. The writer still cherishes a cricket bat presented to him as a prized possession. It would be superfluous to mention he won short distance races too. He loved to play chess as a relaxing game and I have seen him contending against a whole crowd under the jackfruit trees where he had played “ball” in his childhood. Besides he was a fairly good billiards player. Samad was also fond of watching others, specially budding youngsters, play outdoor games. Samad never had had any coaching or underwent formal training. Nor did he indulge in exercise, not even calisthenics. When asked to explain his game, Samad did not offer any theories, but made occasional cryptic remarks. He was guided by years of experience and an in-born instinct to do the right thing at the right moment.

***

Family man, yet moody

He loved his family members and was always a loveable friend of three generations. Late in his fifties and sixties he used to collect some of his 'six-footer' nephews and go round Decca accosting West Pakistanis and jokingly challenging them to produce a family as tall as his.

As mentioned, Samad was moody, both on and off the field. His simplicity and, in contrast, quick temper bordered on eccentricity. He was a commanding personality wherever he appeared. Many legends have grown about him and old “dadoos" regale their grand-children with tales about him. His football skill was uncanny and defied analysis. Imagine the budding Samad being coached by a modern expert. No planned defence would have succeeded to hold him, for he would produce something new like a magician. I had seen him standing unmoved in a crucial tie for Mohammedan Sporting in 1934 with gems of throughs by Rahmat going abegging repeatedly, while the huge crowd booed and jeered. A slight gesture of disappointment by that great inside-left drew an angry retort, "football sikhne aya hai” (Have you come to learn football?). He used to hug the sideline most of the time and disliked tough charge or close attention. Perhaps here lay the magic of success, for he did not waste his energy. Apart from the surprise element his amazing speed, ball-control and body-swerves left his opponents stunned. The ball seemed to be attached to his toes with strings and he made the ball behave as a good billiard player would his cue-ball with his spins. A year or two before his death he came to India on hearing that his other great contemporary Goshto Pal was ill. I have a cutting from a Calcutta newspaper with the tall Samad in the centre with his arms on the shoulders of Kumar and Goshto. Samad had been compared to Pele and Stan Matthew but he had an edge over both and Dhyan Chand too. They would be lost among a crowd of players but Samad's was an easily noticeable figure in whichever company he appeared.

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Half-a-century of great football

He played great football from 1906-1956 - truly a staggering half-a-century - even after those of his next-generation, Mona Duttas and Noor Mohammads, faded away from the sporting firmament. No wonder he was hailed and is still remembered as the “football wizard” or “footballer Jadookar".

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© Copyright 2019 Babul Nasar. All rights reserved.

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