Independent India’s 1st football game – An Olympic encounter

On 30th July 1948, almost one year after gaining Independence, India played its first ever International football match against France, in the 1948 London Olympics.

As India celebrates its 70th Independence Day, let’s take a look back in time to Independent India’s first football game – An Olympic encounter

India’s first official football match after gaining independence was the 1948 Summer Olympics. Fifteen days prior to India celebrating its first anniversary the Indian team took on France in the first round game.

Under the guidance of Mohun Bagan coach Balaidas Chatterjee, the squad travelled to Great Britain after AIFF successfully managed to get India in Olympics, thanks to few other countries that withdrew. Taking on a European team the Indian squad, led by centre-half Talimeren Ao, came out bare feet to play the game. Although France were not the world beaters they were still a one of those good teams that were regular in the world cups. In a wet and cold surface a bare footed Indian team showed some determined performances creating good chances against their much fancied opponent and although India looked like a better side, it was France that took the lead when Rene Courbin drew first blood on the half-hour mark.

Also Read: The other side of Indian football


Indian players training at Richmond Park Olympic Camp. Source: Official report, 1948 Olympics.

India soon had a chance to draw level when Gunnar Dahlner, the Swedish referee, pointed to the spot just before the break. Sailen Manna stepped up for the spot-kick but failed to make the penalty-kick count, as his effort sailed way over the bar. However India was granted another chance minutes later with a second penalty. This time it was Mahabir Prasad, who took the responsibility but once again India was denied after France Goalkeeper Guy Rouxel pulled off a brilliant save.

Despite missing two penalties, India continued to attack in search of the equaliser and they were finally rewarded in the 70th minute. In a well played move, Ahmed khan combined with substitute B Vajravelu, whose final assist for Raman was finished off in style by the Mysore Police striker. It was 1-1 and game on. However, back in those days Football in India was 70 minutes game. As a result Indian players began tiring out in the already cold weather. France tried to take advantage of the depleting Indian energy but the defence held on bravely. Until the final minute of the game, when a small defensive lapse led to French player Rene Persillon slotting home a winner for France.

Although the agonizing last minute winner from France meant India were out of the competition, the barefooted performances from Indians won the hearts of the 17000 strong crowd, who applauded the players’s effort. Despite the first round exit for Indians, the match became a foundation for the India’s best footballing years. In the following decade India went on win gold in 1951 and 1962 Asian games while also coming 4th in Melbourne Olympics.

While the Indian ascendancy in world football lost its sheen since then, over the last couple of years the tides have changed. Winning has become a habit and rankings have improved, let’s hope this 96th ranked Indian team fulfill the billion’s dream of watching India in a FIFA world cup in coming years soon.

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