There was a time when the whole world was surprised to see the skills of Indian football players. It happened during the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and Rome Olympics in 1960. It was a glorious time in Indian football. India never qualified for the Olympics since then. More than a half a century passed in between.
To celebrate the glorious past of Indian football and memorable performance by the team in 1956 and 1960 Olympics, CitySpidey, in its series of golden memories from Olympics, had a talk with footballer, SS Hakim in Delhi. Hakim shared his memories with pride and joy and also talked about the golden future of Indian football ahead.
Recalling those times, Hakim said, “I was not a part of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics team, yet I can recall the moment when our team finished in fourth position. My father was the coach of the team. We played in the semi-final, which is the best performance of Indian football team in the history of the Olympics. During the 1960 Rome Olympics, I was in the team and I must say that playing in the Olympics was a matter of immense pride. For me, the result we got in the Rome Olympics was far better than all the other times and it is not because we got sixth position but because we played extraordinarily there facing the football giants of that time like Hungry, France and Peru. Even though we were fourth in Australia, the results we achieved in Rome were more important.”
Memorable 1960 Rome Olympics
Hakim said that the performance at the Rome Olympics was exceptional for India. He cherishes each and every moment lived during the 1960 Rome Olympics. He animatedly said, “At Rome, we were in a very tough group alongside Hungry, France and South American legend Peru. Our first match was against Hungry. The entire contingent was expecting our defeat by a margin of 10-12 goals. We were trained hard so that we could manage a draw against the Hungarian or even a loss by minimum margin. We did it. The score was 1-2. We lost the match but won the heart of Europe. Entire European media declared us a dark horse. It was a great surprise for all of us. Even back in India, people were surprised about our superlative performance to finish the game at 1-2.”
Hakim continued, “The next match was against France which was one of the best teams at that time in Europe. We took the lead by a stunning goal from India's legend PK Banerjee. The whole stadium was stunned. We were leading till half time but by a silly mistake, we conceded a goal and the match resulted in a draw. Unfortunately, we did achieve our own goal. That result was like a win for us. Whole Europe was astonished and we were the hot topic in the newspapers. This was the best ever performance by Indian football team in the last 100 years.”
Continuing further, Hakim said that everyone was talking about India's next game against Peru at the Olympic village. “Coach of France advised the Peru coach that the only way to defeat India is rough play, and we were hunted by this technique. Till the half time, the score was 1-1 but unfortunately we lost 1-3. We performed very well at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Our performance was the best by any Asian or African team.”
The moments at Rome
There were many small moments which Hakim lived in Rome and captured in his heart and memory forever. He shared, “The march past for me was the dream and marching in the ground, I felt that I have achieved everything. Also the other high point was to meet my hero Cassius Clay (Mohammad Ali). Clay had a very unique habit. He used to roam in the Olympic village from camp to camp. At that time he was the sports icon in the world. We never expected to meet Clay at our camp. Suddenly one night at 1.30 am, he entered our room and we were surprised. He talked to us and praised our games. Another moment, which I want to share came in La’quilla. I was staying with Jarnail Singh and Ram Bahadur. We were on the road to a local shopping centre. We saw that there were many local villagers and others behind us to see Jarnail’s personality. I asked them and got to know that they never saw a sardar. They asked us for an autograph and we were the king that time.”
Hakim as a footballer
As a player for India, Hakim represented India at the 1959 Pre-Olympics at Singapore. Also, he played preparatory matches for the Olympics in Malaysia and Indonesia. In the next year, he represented the all-time great Indian football team at the Rome Olympics. Besides that, he played for services Andhra and captained North India team against foreign teams from 1960 to 1969.
As a referee, Hakim’s career spanned from 1974 to 1989. He was a referee in 33 International matches, which is a national record as well. Hakim has been a referee in Asian Games, Olympic qualifying matches, world cup qualifying matches etc.
Still, Hakim in his seventies, loves spending time on the ground kicking the ball. “I spend one hour everyday with Football. I take 70-80 kicks on the ground which is my most important routine work of the day. I feel that I am as young as I was in my college life and you could see how I shoot the ball and to what distance. Definitely, I am not efficient enough physically but from my mind and heart, I am that Hakim who once was a part of Indian team,” Hakim shared with pride.
Suggestion for Indian football
Hakim said that the government schools and the roads are the nursery of football and players can be found from there. “There are players at the primary levels and on the streets. There is a need to give them a chance and pick them from that place. The need is to make football compulsory in schools and to bring back those primary level tournaments which were once organised decades back in the country. At that time, there were many players of great quality but nowadays, we have to find a replacement for Baichung and Chhetri. All the great football players are from the streets. Look at Pele, Ronalidiniho, Rivaldo, Eusovio etc. We have the same climate like South America and Africa, so why are we not producing footballers. Our economy is better and we also have better facilities. Why are the authorities not doing anything for football? Our team was once the gold medalist at Asian Games.”