Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


A journey through time: Mohammedan Sporting's storied history in Indian football

Mohammedan Sporting Club, entrenched in the tapestry of Indian football, writes a new chapter in its storied history with a groundbreaking victory in the I-League.

A journey through time: Mohammedan Sportings storied history in Indian football

Mohammedan Sporting Club celebrates victory in the I-League


Aswathy Santhosh

Updated: 7 April 2024 6:58 AM GMT

'Jaan Jaan Mohammedan' - the chorus resonated among the handful of Mohammedan Sporting Club fans across Shillion's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday evening.

Mohammedan Sporting, a cornerstone of Indian football, achieved a monumental milestone today as they secured their maiden I-League title. The Kolkata-based team needed only a draw against Shillong Lajong FC in their penultimate match, but they delivered all three points, clinching the coveted championship and earning a promotion to the prestigious Indian Super League (ISL) in style.

The road to glory was paved with determination and skills, with Mohammedan Sporting showcasing their prowess throughout the season. Holding firm at 52 points from 23 matches, they maintained a lead over their competitors, including Sreenidi Deccan FC, who trails by eight points. The task was made easier for Mohammedan Sporting after NEROCA FC held Sreenidi Deccan FC to a 1-1 draw, further solidifying their position at the top of the table.

The significance of Mohammedan Sporting's triumph extends beyond the confines of the football field. It signifies a resurgence of one of India's oldest and most storied football clubs, steeped in a rich legacy that spans over a century.

Established in February 1891, Mohammedan Sporting holds the distinction of being one of the oldest active football clubs in the country, with deep roots in the vibrant city of Kolkata, West Bengal.

From origins to glory

Before the emergence of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal as football giants, Mohammedan Sporting had already etched its name in the annals of football history. Winning the Calcutta Football League (CFL) in 1934 marked a significant milestone, making them the first native Indian club to achieve such a feat. This triumph heralded an era of dominance, with Mohammedan Sporting clinching the league title for five consecutive years, setting a record that endured for decades.

The era spanning from 1931 to 1947 marked a golden period for Mohammedan Sporting Club, a powerhouse in Indian football. Led by the visionary club official CA Aziz, Mohammedan underwent a transformational phase characterized by strategic recruitment and a commitment to modern football tactics.

Notably, Aziz's emphasis on the utilization of boots in the game underscored his forward-thinking approach. By recruiting talents such as Kaleh Khan and Hafiz Rahid, alongside players from diverse regions of India, Mohammedan assembled a formidable and cosmopolitan team, united by a core of Muslim players.

1940 CFL winning team (Image via Wikipedia)

In 1933, under the captaincy of Khurshid Anwar, Mohammedan made history by clinching the CFL title in their inaugural season in the top division. This triumph marked the beginning of a remarkable journey of success both domestically and internationally. The team's unity and cohesion translated into on-field excellence, with players like Abbas Mirza, Osman Jan, and Mohammed Salim becoming key figures in Mohammedan's dominance. Notably, Salim's brief stint with Celtic FC showcased Mohammedan's growing reputation on the global stage.

The golden era

From 1934 to 1938, Mohammedan's dominance in the CFL was unrivalled, securing five consecutive league titles and establishing themselves as the 'Invincibles' of Indian football.

Their achievements extended beyond domestic competitions, as evidenced by their historic victory in the IFA Shield in 1936, where they triumphed as the first all-Indian team since 1911. Mohammedan's success was not confined to the field; it resonated deeply within the Muslim community, symbolising resilience and unity amidst societal divisions.

The club's pinnacle moment arrived in 1940 when they claimed the Durand Cup, a tournament previously reserved for British and British-Indian regimental teams. Their victory, achieved amidst the backdrop of World War II, resonated as a significant milestone for Indian football, fueling the flames of the burgeoning national movement.

Mohammedan's triumphs in multiple prestigious competitions, including the Rover's Cup, further solidified their status as a football powerhouse, inspiring fervent support and financial backing from supporters across India.

CFL winning team of 1937 (Imge credits to Somen Sengupta)

However, the post-independence era presented new challenges for Mohammedan. The exodus of patrons, members, and players to Pakistan following partition posed significant hurdles, disrupting the club's operations and impacting its performance in major tournaments. Despite these setbacks, Mohammedan persevered, adapting to changing dynamics within Indian football. Their triumph in the CFL in 1948 signalled resilience amidst adversity, laying the foundation for a new chapter in the club's storied history.

Throughout the subsequent decades, Mohammedan experienced fluctuations in performance but remained a formidable force in Indian football. Their triumphs in competitions such as the Aga Khan Gold Cup and the IFA Shield underscored their enduring legacy and continued relevance in the national football landscape. Mohammedan's ability to evolve and adapt, while staying true to its rich heritage, exemplifies its enduring significance as a beacon of excellence in Indian football.

IFA Shield winning team of 1942 (Image credits to Somen Sengupta)

The period from 1981 to 2019 marked a rollercoaster journey for Mohammedan Sporting Club, characterised by both fleeting successes and prolonged struggles. Majid Bishkar's tenure from 1982 to 1987 epitomised a brief era of optimism. But it was followed by a gradual decline in performance and a drought of major achievements. The early 1980s witnessed Mohammedan Sporting's triumphant campaign in the 1981 CFL, clinching the title unbeaten for the third time.

Bolstered by the acquisitions of renowned Indian footballer Syed Nayeemuddin as coach and Iranian stars Majid Bishkar and Jamshid Nassiri, Mohammedan embarked on a promising trajectory. Bishkar, with his FIFA World Cup experience, infused the team with newfound vigour. The club's crowning glory came in 1983 when they clinched their first Federation Cup, followed by a successful defence of the title in the subsequent year.

The gradual downfall

The mid to late 1980s saw a gradual decline in Mohammedan Sporting's performance, with sporadic victories punctuating an otherwise lacklustre period. The signing of Nigerian striker Chima Okorie in 1985 briefly reignited hopes, but sustained success remained elusive. The club's participation in international tournaments, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Centenary Club Cup in 1990, showcased their potential on a global stage, albeit with mixed results.

As the century drew to a close, Mohammedan Sporting, along with other Maidan giants, faced mounting financial challenges. Increased expenses to compete at the highest level coupled with limited revenue sources plunged the club into dire straits. Unpaid players, frequent coaching changes, and a trophy drought characterised this tumultuous period. The club's participation in India's inaugural national league, the National Football League (NFL) in 1996 failed to yield significant success, culminating in relegation to the NFL 2nd Division.

Despite brief resurgences and efforts to revitalise the club's fortunes, Mohammedan Sporting grappled with inconsistency and relegation woes. The appointment of foreign coaches and club icons in leadership roles aimed to rejuvenate the team, but relegation remained a recurrent theme.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced with Mohammedan players in 2006–07 NFL (Image via Wikipedia)

The turn of the millennium ushered in a renewed sense of hope, with Mohammedan Sporting securing promotion to the NFL 2nd Division in 2001 under the stewardship of Mohammed Habib. Subsequent promotions and relegations mirrored the club's volatile trajectory, highlighting the challenges of sustaining success in Indian football's competitive landscape.

The journey of the Mohammedan Sporting Club through the years has been a tale of resilience, adaptation, and eventual revival. In the early 2000s, the club faced challenges in the NFL 2nd Division, experiencing relegation and promotion cycles that tested their resolve. Seeking to elevate their standards, Mohammedan appointed their first foreign coach, Chibuzor Nwakanma. Despite initial setbacks, the club's perseverance paid off as they secured promotion to the NFL 2nd Division under the guidance of Mohammed Habib.

However, the following seasons saw a series of relegations and promotions, highlighting the club's struggle to establish consistency in performance. With renowned figures like PK Banerjee taking on technical roles, Mohammedan aimed to regain their foothold in Indian football. Victories in tournaments such as the Durand Cup and the IFA Shield injected renewed hope, but relegation from the I-League in 2013-14 marked another setback.

The resurgence

The tide began to turn in 2016 with the appointment of Ghazal Uz Zafar as General Secretary, ushering in a period of reformation and resurgence. Mohammedan's runner-up finish in the CFL and triumph in the Sikkim Governor's Gold Cup signalled a return to form, setting the stage for further success. The club's victory in the Bordoloi Trophy in 2018 reflected their growing competitiveness on the national stage.

The dawn of a new era came in 2020 with Mohammedan's joint venture with Bunkerhill, aiming to secure a spot in the prestigious Indian Super League and return to the I-league after a gap of seven years. With a strategic focus on talent acquisition and development, Mohammedan embarked on a journey of transformation under the leadership of Sk. Wasim Akram. The appointment of Spanish coach Jose Hevia and subsequent signings of top players like Pedro Manzi and Jamal Bhuyan bolstered the team's prospects.

Mohammedan SC in Durand Cup 2022

Under the guidance of Andrey Chernyshov, Mohammedan reached the final of the Durand Cup in 2021, showcasing their resurgence on the national stage. The club's triumph in the CFL after four decades marked a significant milestone, reflecting their renewed competitiveness in domestic competitions. With standout performers like Nikola Stojanovic and Marcus Joseph, Mohammedan emerged as strong contenders for the I-League title, narrowly missing out on the championship in a closely contested season.

Today, as Mohammedan Sporting celebrates their historic victory in the I-League, they stand as a testament to the indomitable spirit of Indian football. From their humble beginnings over a century ago to their triumphant return to the pinnacle of Indian football, Mohammedan Sporting's journey exemplifies the enduring legacy of the beautiful game in India. As they embark on their next chapter in the Indian Super League, Mohammedan Sporting carries with them the hopes and dreams of a footballing nation, ready to inspire a new generation of players and fans alike.

Let the celebrations begin

In response to the monumental achievement of securing promotion to the ISL, the MSC ultras expressed their enthusiasm and anticipation for the club's future endeavours.

"It was only a matter of time before we moved to ISL. Expectations will always be to do the best and fight for championships as it's with all the 3 clubs from Kolkata. Having said that, it is understood that the 1st season for us can be full of surprises as well as shocks. We might see our team doing experiments and test waters. Hence, a top 6 finish would be respectful," shared one passionate supporter.

Reflecting on the impact of Mohammedan Sporting's absence from top-tier competitions, "With us being absent from ISL and previously I-League, there certainly was a dent in attendance numbers with respect to the derbies in regional tournaments where we used to meet like the CFL. However, that didn't stop the faithful's engaging in banter and rivalry on and off the field. The weight and prestige can be understood by the fact that East Bengal changed their lineup when playing against Mohammedan and included many of the ISL starters. Next ISL season onwards fans of Indian football can look up to 3 derbies in Kolkata which, safe to say, will be sellouts," he emphasised.

"It does feel good getting into ISL but so is the feeling winning the coveted I-League. NFL/I-League has always been a bone in the throat for clubs from Kolkata which till date only Mohun Bagan have won twice. So it's good to be bringing another trophy to our decorated club. Hopefully, this can serve as a booster for Bengal football," the MSC ultras signed off.

Next Story