Mohammed Salim – The first Indian Footballer to Play in Europe

Mohammed Salim

Willie Malay is one of the most legendary, enigmatic Manager to have managed the century old Celtic club of Scotland. The reason I am mentioning him is because he had a memorable part to play in the history of Indian football. It was only because of his progressive, neoteric thinking process that Celtic got it’s first and till date the only Indian footballer in their squad.

Only for he looked, above colour or creed that Celtic have their first Asian sensation. The year was 1936 when Mohammed Salim reached the coast of Britain along with his cousin. In Glasgow, Salim was introduced to Willie Malay by his cousin, “A great player from India has come by ship. Will you please take a trial of his? But there is a slight problem. Salim plays in bare feet.” to which Willie laughed but was awe-struck once he saw Salim play during the trial. Willie was so impressed by his skills and techniques that he immediately wanted to sign up Salim.

There is a whole another story of how Salim reached Britain.

After an impressive season with Mohammedan SC, Salim was invited to play two matches for All India XI against the China Olympic side. He was so majestic in the first match that the opponents had nothing but praises for him.
Then the most bizarre thing happened, Mohammed Salim disappeared just before the second match. Advertisements were placed in several newspapers asking him to return before the start of the match. IFA, who were organizing the two friendlies in India for the first time, all its effort to bring back Salim went in vain.

It was only later learnt that Salim along with his cousin Hasheem went to Britain to try his luck in European football. Upon reaching Britain, Hasheem took him to Glasgow so that he can appear for the Celtic trials and the rest, as they say, is all history.


After persuasion from both Hasheem and Salim, Willie Malay finally agreed to take a trial of him.
Salim then demonstrated his skills and techniques in front of 1,000 Celtic members and three coaches. He was so incredible that Willie instantly decided to sign him up and make him play some friendlies.

In his first match against Hamilton, Celtic won by a scoreline of 5-1. He took a penalty and even managed to score one, thus becoming the first ever Indian-born footballer to play and score in European Football. It was only 63 years later that a similar feat was achieved by another Indian-born. It was none other than Baichung Bhutia when he scored off a volley against Chesterfield in English Division two for Bury FC.

In the second match against Galston, Salim helped Celtic to clinch an emphatic win against them. The scoreline ended 7-1. Of the 7 goals scored by the team, three of them came from his move.

“Well Worth Seeing” that’s the exact headline used by the Scottish newspaper before Salim’s first game against the Hamilton. There was a huge hype before the game to see the barefoot Indian winger play. 5000 People turned up for this game and Salim played along with Celtic legend Malky MacDonald.

During the second friendly, Salim’s performance was even more impressive. Salim’s popularity at Parkhead was sky-high, “Give the ball to Salim” was demanded by the crowd, but the Celtic players wisely did not overwork the Indian.
It said that the penalty shot, Salim took was so powerful that even after getting a hand to it the opponent goalie couldn’t manage to stop the ball from going inside the net.


A week after the friendlies, Salim left Glasgow to be on his way back to Calcutta on the ship that brought him.
Willie Malay wanted to sign him for the 1936-37 season and in order to persuade him to stay at Celtic, the manager even offered to hold a charity game in his honour and was even willing to give 5 percent of the total ticket sale.
But Salim still wanted to leave Britain as he was homesick and was missing his family very badly.


After returning back to India he joined Mohammedan SC and helped them to clinch two back to back CFL titles before retiring in 1938. Salim certainly didn’t forget about Celtic FC. In 1949 he contacted The Evening Times (Newspaper) in an attempt to secure a copy of Willie Malay’s Book and again in 1960, he wrote to them.
Celtic too didn’t forget Mohammed Salim.

Rashid, son of Mohammed Salim, wrote to Celtic FC, the letter said that Salim was seriously ill and in need of urgent medical treatment. To Rashid’s surprise, he received a letter from the club inside which there was a bank draft of 100 pounds.

At a time when India remained under colonial rule when our own were fighting against the foreign invaders for our own land, for our basic human rights.

It was the Scottish people who showed us that with the football we can eliminate all racial discrimination.The club gave both Salim and his cousin a proper reception, whole-hearted support, and treated them in a right manner.

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