Football: Habib, who once ruled Kolkata maidan, goes into seclusion in Hyderabad

By Mohammad Shafique

July 14, 2019

Hyderabad:  With his hands shaking because of Parkinson’s and yet balancing his two-wheeler, he visits a mosque near his house in Janaki Nagar colony every day. Very few know that he is a legendary footballer and the most feared striker of his time.

One of the last football greats produced by Hyderabad and someone who once ruled the Kolkata maidan, Mohammed Habib is today living a secluded life in his home town.

Running past his rivals like a panther and scoring goals to loud cheers from the spectators, he was once the most prolific scorer and a hero in Kolkata.

Described by many as the Indian Pele, Habib used to be the cynosure of all eyes whenever he took to the field, representing all three major football clubs of Kolkata — East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting — at different times.

The fleet-footed Habib turned nostalgic, remembering the golden period of Indian football, his heydays as a lethal striker and as a member of the bronze-winning India team at the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games.

Though afflicted by Parkinson’s for a couple of years, the glorious years he spent playing professional football are still fresh in his mind.

Habib recalled the fierce competition among the players and how the premier clubs of Kolkata used to vie with each other to sign the players who were in big demand. They included his younger brother, Mohammed Akbar.

Football came to him naturally. “We are a family of footballers. My father was a school teacher and footballer. He taught us the game from our school days,” Habib, whose four other brothers — Mohammed Azam, Mohammed Moin, Mohammed Siddiq and Mohammed Jaffer — were also leading players for their respective teams, told IANS.

“Football was a passion for us. We dedicated our entire lives to the game. We never thought we will come up to this position. I spent the entire life with prosperity thanks to the Almighty Allah. Wherever we go, we get the respect,” said Habib, who has taken even the crippling ailment in his stride.

The 70-year-old is still loved by football fans in Kolkata and whenever he visits that city, the sport enthusiasts mob him, hold his hands and kiss them.

In his small flat in Janaki Nagar colony, Habib has proudly displayed the trophies, medals and other honours he won in his illustrious career. The collection also includes a photograph with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, which was taken when she felicitated him in Kolkata last year.

“Football was everything for us. We enjoyed playing the game in front of thousands of fans,” said Habib, the 1980 Arjuna awardee and a member of the Indian team in three Asian Games.

Diminutive and skillful, Habib played professional football in Kolkata from 1966 to 1983. Wearing the number 10 jersey, he was lethal, both with his headers and panther-like runs.

Old timers recall that rivals used to find it difficult to stop him as he often turned half chances into goals, hoodwinking the opposition.

Habib, who was with East Bengal for a maximum number of years, also played for Mohun Bagan and Mohammaden Sporting.

“How can I forget that match. I felt very happy playing with such big international stars,” Habib said about the famous match in 1977 when Mohun Bagan took on the Pele-led Cosmos at the Eden Gardens.

Pele was impressed with Habib’s footwork when he scored the equaliser to make it 2-2. The football legend embraced the young Hyderabadi in appreciation. “He congratulated me and said good luck. Because of the rains that day, the match ended in a draw,” recalled Habib.

Famous for his mental strength and fighting spirit, he also served as chief coach at the Tata Football Academy (TFA), grooming young talent.

He, however, rues the downfall of football in Hyderabad, which produced scores of of Olympians and internationals.

Though he was always ready to help the city regain the lost glory, his services were never used.

“I don’t go where I don’t get the respect,” said Habib, referring to the wrangling between rival groups in Andhra Pradesh Football Federation for the last several years.

He believes that the city can still revive its glory. “Talent is still available and it needs to be groomed but for that to happen, you need honest people like Raheem saab,” said Habib, referring to the legendary football coach Syed Abdul Rahim. IANS