Celtic’s legendary Mohammed Salim – The Indian Juggler

A brilliant Celtic thread today by French content creator @lexotalk on a Celtic legend (even though he never played a competitive game) Mohammed Salim is well worth sharing today. The thread is posted in French with the rough translation below. We’ve also included an earlier article on The Celtic Star from Just an Ordinary Boy on Salim’s amazing Celtic story.

My dad, god rest him, was a young boy when this story was being played out and it’s one of many Celtic stories that he used to tell me when I was that age.  That’s why Mohammed Salim is a Celtic legend.  What an incredible story this is…

“Abdul Salim, Celtic’s Indian International trialist, tickled the crowd at Celtic Park on Friday with his magnificent ball manipulation. In his bare feet he was a conspicuous figure but this was further emphasised by his dark skin against the white and green of the Celtic strip. His play was top class. Every ball he touched went exactly to the place he wanted it to. Not one inch was it out. His crosses into goal were simply shrieking to be nodded into the net. I wouldn’t like to have calculated the score had McGrory been playing ….. Dawson missed a penalty kick which Salim, despite the invitation of Alex Miller, refused to take.” Glasgow Observer, 5 September 1936.

Mohammed Salim – The Indian Juggler – a thread…

Mohammed Salim – The Indian Juggler...A look back at the story of the first Indian player to play outside his country and the first player from the Asian continent to set foot on European pitches, during his time at Celtic in Scotland.

From Calcutta to Glasgow, it’s this way…

Born in Calcutta in 1904, he was not initially destined for football, engaged in studies of chemistry and pharmacy which did not fascinate him that much, he moved towards football, and joined Chittaranjan FC in 1926, which marked the start of his career.

He will then quickly join Mohammedan SC, initially to play with the B team, but he will quickly join the first team with which he will later win five consecutive titles in the Calcutta Football League, the championship of the city.

These great performances earned him an invitation from the federation to play two friendly matches with the Indian selection. As usual he will have an exceptional first match, a match which will impress his cousin Hasheem who came to visit him from England.
After this first match Salim disappears, the police are asked to find him and announcements are posted in the newspapers, but Mohammed is already on his way to England with Hasheem who convinced him to try to break into Europe .
Once on the old continent, Hasheem shows Mohammed around London before going to Celtic Park, in order to try to meet Willie Maley, coach of the Bhoys at the time, in order to try to convince him to take Mohammed on. the trial with Celtic.
Only problem, Salim only wants to play barefoot, with his feet bandaged like in India, which will cause Maley to hesitate for a long time, who will end up agreeing to give Salim a chance in front of 1000 spectators and three coaches curious to see the player playing with bound feet.
And as you can imagine, he will make a very strong impression, the test is more than conclusive, and Salim will be selected for two friendly matches against Hamilton and Galston, where he will have the opportunity to show that even without boots he may be better than the others.
Two matches where he will “hypnotize” the crowd in the words of a Scottish journalist who will put Salim on the front page of the Scottish Daily Express in an article where he explains that he “delighted the crowd, rolling the ball on his toes”.

After a few months in Scotland where he will delight Celtic supporters, Salim feels homesick and asks to leave. To retain him, the club offered to organize a charity match in his honor, from which he would receive 5% of the income, approximately £1,800 at the time.

Salim refuses, but asks that the sum in question be returned to him to donate to an orphanage. In the late 1970s his son sent a letter to Celtic warning that his father was ill and needed money to pay for treatment.

He then said: “This letter was not motivated by money. I wanted to know if Mohammed Salim was still present in their memory. To my great surprise, I received a response from them, accompanied by a cheque and in a green and white jersey.”

Mohammed Salim finally died on 5 November, 1980, and was therefore the first player from the Indian subcontinent to play for a European club, and the first non-European footballer to have played on the Old Continent.

Here’s an article from Just an Ordinary Bhoy on The Celtic Star dated 11 May 2023…

Mohammad Salim, best known as the man who played barefoot, but he’s recognised for so much more…

“It shows how in the days of the Empire, Celtic broke barriers, living up to the ideal of the civilising mission and how this Indian in bare feet enchanted one half of Glasgow.” Boria Majumdar, deputy editor of the International Journal of the History of Sport.

 Mohammed Salim only played a couple of bounce games for Celtic back in the 1930s but is well known in legend as the man who played barefooted with bandages wrapped round his feet. Unimaginable know, but even unimaginable back in the days of the rough and tumble of ‘contact’ football not to mention the solid lump of leather they kicked around.

Of course Salim achieved much more in his career than turning out in the famous hoops a couple of times. Much more than that.

As a youngster he was inspired by the famous Mohan Bagan side who made history by becoming the first all Indian side to win the IFA shield by defeating British army side East Yorkshire regiment. British army sides monopolised the tournament at the time so it was a big accomplishment.

Born in 1904 and raised in the lower middle class locality in Metiaburuz Calcutta part of the British Raj and now known as Kolkata West Bengal. The young Mohammad loved football from a young age and although a chemist and pharmacist he shunned academic training and pursued his dream of being a footballer.

With a lot of Indian Nationalists fighting British rule they used the beautiful game to prove they weren’t inferior to the smug Brits who didn’t think the natives were capable of home rule. On more than a few occasions the natives would challenge the British on the football field and took great delight in wiping the arrogant smug smiles off the their faces by beating them barefooted nonetheless, opposed to the fully booted Brits.

Salim was no different and had the belief instilled into him that he was as good as the Europeans at his first club Chittaranjan, this continued at his other clubs Mohammedan Sporting club, Sporting Union, and East Bengal club.

It was in a second spell with Mohammedan Sporting Club that he achieved prominence, Winning three titles and an IFA shield. In 1936 he was selected to play in exhibition matches against the Chinese Olympic side. The first being for an Indian select and the second for a civil and military select side. The first game ended in a draw and Salim received high praise for his performance.

Things took and interesting turn for the second game when Salim disappeared and the police were instructed to find him and even put adverts in the newspaper to locate him, but it was to no avail as he was heading to Britain via Cairo after a relative named Hasheem who lived in England persuaded him to try his luck in the UK.

After a few days in London Salim travelled with Hasheem to Glasgow and they visited Celtic park. Hasheem persuaded Willie Maley to give Salim a trial even though he was an unknown quantity who spoke no English and played barefoot. He wowed a watching whooping one thousand club members and three coaches with his skills and was given the Chance to further impress in two alliance matches.

Salim scored in a 5-1 win over Hamilton accies and then started again in a 7-1 win over Galston. He wowed the intrigued crowd and the press who were curious to see not just the first Indian player to play on these shores but a player who played barefoot and he was a stand out in both games. Not just because of his bandaged feet but his skills on the ball. He mesmerised them and left a huge impression. He proved he was the real deal and not just a circus act.

More importantly he impressed Willie Maley. Salim unfortunately became homesick and decided to return home. Celtic pleaded with him to stay for a year, even offering to arrange a charity match on his behalf which he would be entitled to five percent of the gate receipts. Salim refused but kindly asked that his share be donated to local orphans.

There was also another offer on the table form a club in Germany but he returned home to play for Mohammedan sporting club once again where he would win a further two titles.

When Mohammed Salim died in 1980 he left a great legacy not just at home but also thousands of miles from his homeland. He was the first Indian to play for Celtic and indeed the first Indian to play in Europe. Even though he only played in two friendly matches he’s still highly regarded in Celtic folklore.

JustAnOrdinaryBhoy – follow on Twitter @ordinarybhoy

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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