Shabbir Ali relives 'special connection' with Kolkata football

The former India footballer, who will be conferred with the Krida Guru award, earned the highest praise during his 13-year stint as a striker for Mohammedan Sporting Club.

Shabbir Ali played 110 matches for India scoring 35 times.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Shabbir Ali may have been born and raised in Hyderabad, but it gives him great pleasure when a fan identifies him as a Bengali.

His connection to Kolkata is strong, from his time spent in the city as a footballer and coach. Shabbir earned the highest praise during his 13-year stint as a striker for Mohammedan Sporting Club. He went on to manage Mohammedan SC and West Bengal with distinction.

In recognition of his services to the State, the Department of Youth Services and Sports (Government of West Bengal) will felicitate Shabbir with the Krida Guru award. He will receive the award on Wednesday, at Kolkata.

“I’m proud and honoured," Shabbir said, on the sidelines of the Santosh Trophy South Zone qualifiers here.

The 61-year-old, the coach of Telangana, spoke glowingly of the football culture in Kolkata. “I lived in Kolkata, but due to some reasons, I had to shift to Hyderabad. But even so, I will forever have a special connection with Kolkata. Most people think that I am a Bengali.

"I can never forget the welcome I got when I moved to the city in 1972, to join East Bengal. By the time I played my first match there, East Bengal was out of the title race. Despite this, the stadium was packed because everyone wanted to see me play. I received this same love when I moved to Mohammedan SC the next season,” Shabbir recalled.

The forward, who has over 100 international caps to his name, added, “When I was playing for Mohammedan, a rumour spread that I had met with a serious accident. A few supporters came to the YMCA to check on me. The warden told them that I was sleeping, but they refused to
leave the premises. I then came out and assured them that I was doing well. In Kolkata, if you are a footballer, people automatically respect you. That is the beauty of Kolkata. The love that they give is unmatched,” Shabbir said.

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