Most of today’s young Indian football fans wouldn’t have heard of Mohammed Yousuf Khan. Having been brought up on a diet of European football and ISL, or for the rare individual, I-League, most of them are oblivious to the fact that India had legendary teams between the 50s and the 70s. Although we know about some of the other greats from that era, Yousuf Khan is someone whom many might not remember.
Known as “the bearded horse”, he was a legendary midfielder whose poise and control with the ball was appreciated all over Asia. So much so that he was one of the only two Indians to be selected in the 1965 Asian All Stars XI and went on to receive the Arjuna Award the following year. The man from Hyderabad played a huge part in India’s Asian Games gold medal triumph in 1962 as well.
That team went on to beat South Korea 2-1 in the final in front of a hostile Indonesian crowd. India had criticized the hosts for excluding Taiwan and Israel for political reasons and that made the victory even more historic. Coincidentally, the Pakistan hockey team was in the stands and they were the only ones who had cheered India on inside a 100,000 strong Senayan stadium in Jakarta. The versatile midfielder was the leader in midfield in a side that boasted the likes of Peter Thangaraj, Syed Nayeemuddin, Jarnail Singh, PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami.
The commitment and dedication that the teams during this period have been known to have should find a mention in our textbooks, but sadly they don’t. Jarnail Singh played with half a dozen stitches for most of the tournament and proved to be a match winner as a makeshift centre-forward. The lasting image that our grandparents’ generation would have of him is that of blood streaming down his face after his stitches opened up in the final. Defender Trilok Singh was another one of these bravehearts who played the final without a toenail.
While some of these former players have remained in public discourse, many are now ailing in poverty or have passed away without any recognition. In 1994, Yousuf Khan was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease due to the head injuries that he had suffered during his playing days. With very little support from the government or sports federations, he survived his final years on a pension of Rs 3500 and a grant of Rs 2000 each month most of which was spent on his medication. In a family that included a son and five daughters, that wasn’t nearly enough.
He was supposed to receive Rs 50,000 from the Andhra Pradesh Olympic Association but even that was blocked by a finance firm. All of this while cricketers from the state were being allotted government land in posh localities. He finally passed away in 2006 due to a heart attack and a life that should have been celebrated ended in impoverishment.
For a country like ours that is massively delusional about its own greatness, we’ve almost always failed to remember those who have brought this country glory. Sports is something that is still looked at as an unconventional career option because of the lack of money in everything other than cricket. Maybe it’s time to revisit our rich sporting history instead of prophesying its future in a negative light. Maybe it’s time to do more than just feel emotional after an Olympic gold medal.