Maidaan extends SA Rahim’s journey in football fans’ collective consciousness

Maidaan Review
Maidaan Review (PC: Team Maidaan)
Facsimile of a Sport & Pastime article by Mr N Ganesan, circa 1956

When Chadarghat High School Principal Shawcross told the diminutive lad that he had no future in football, he would have no inkling of the towering stature SA Rahim would acquire as player and coach. Just over than a century after that, the Amit Ravindernath Sharma-directed film, Maidaan, revives memories of arguably the Indian football’s greatest coach, Syed Abdul Rahim.

Of course, the Ajay Devgn-starrer does much more than only circulate Rahim’s aura. It brings the class of 1962 back in the collective consciousness of the sports community. The focus on Indian hockey’s golden past has been so much that the 1962 Asian Games football gold has mostly flown under the average sports fan’s radar and perhaps into oblivion.

Clearly, Rahim was larger than life in his days as coach of the Indian football team. And has remained larger than life in the six decades since his passing, more so with no Indian side going close to matching the deeds of the 1962 squad. The manner in which mention of his name evokes awe to this day is a reflection of the towering persona that he was.

While the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne where India finished fourth and the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta where it won gold will remain the brightest feathers in his cap, the way he built the Hyderabad City Police team from the scratch to be a feared and respected combination that won the Rovers Cup and the Durand Cup in Delhi over and over again is stuff of legends.

I would be kidding myself if I said I met the man, but I have grown up hearing the most amazing stories about his passion for football, thanks to my sports journalist father N Ganesan. The one thing that stood out for me was Rahim’s unending quest for knowledge. After graduating in Arts, he obtained a diploma in physical education as well.

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From a football perspective, he was dedicated to upgrading his skills by observing other coaches, reading and conversations. When abroad with the Indian team, he would find time to attend refresher courses and made copious notes to be able to imbibe his learnings into his coaching methods.

Rahim was easily among the first Indian coaches who understood that tactical nous was as important as fitness. He stirred his players to reach their potential as individuals and as a team, setting standards and managing egos. To be sure, long before Indian coaches understood peak performances, he broke it down with Persistence, Empathy, Authenticity and Knowledge.

Besides being a teacher, he was Hyderabad Football Association’s Honorary Secretary for a good part of two decades till his death. He was also the first from the Indian football fraternity to author a coaching manual. It was slim alright, but it packed a powerful punch, saying things as they ought to be – a reflection of his personality.

He advised the vastly experienced full back Aziz to not accept the vice-captaincy of the Indian side for the 1956 Olympic Games and told him to give his best for the team in Melbourne.

He coached the coaches in the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Coaching Scheme, the pioneering effort in independent India to upskill coaches. In fact, he encouraged the likes of Syed Khaja Azizuddin (popularly known as Aziz), midfielder Noor Mohammed, defender Mohammed Azam and others to take up coaching and ensured a transfer of knowhow.

Maidaan Poster
Maidaan Poster (PC: Maidaan Team)

Hopefully, the All India Football Federation will institute an annual Best Coach award to commemorate the memory of India’s most successful, if not greatest, coach. Hopefully, the Telangana Football Association which runs the Rahim League will feel provoked, if not inspired, to help the tournament regain its rightful place in the minds of the local fans and media.

And yes, hopefully Hyderabad Police will pay greater attention to the upkeep of the Shivkumar Lal Police Stadium in Goshamahal, once the home of the Indian team. Until all this happens, we have Maidaan to fall back upon. Indeed, there is one thing that Maidaan will surely do. It will expand SA Rahim’s legacy beyond the hardcore lovers of Indian football.

Legacy is what makes people talk glowingly about someone’s contribution to society long after they themselves have passed. It is the flame that burns bright in the hearts of those who understand and cherish the invaluable effort made by that person many decades after their journey on earth is complete.

To be sure, that journey of winning millions of hearts started with Chadarghat High School Principal changing his opinion of Rahim barely a day after he dismissed him as having no future. Mr. Shawcross saw the slightly-build lad play spiritedly and was moved to offer the determined Rahim a monthly scholarship of Rs. 5, a princely sum back in the 1920s.

Also Read: Watch Maidaan for the romance of Indian football