Over the last three years, a newly formed team from Hyderabad have been plying their trade in the I-League Second Division. They do not even play their home games in the city anymore, having to move to Anantapur for the 2017-18 season due to poor pitch conditions back home, but Fateh Hyderabad Associated Football Club have progressed well after a poor first season. They offer a ray of hope to a city that had completely fallen off the map in recent decades.
Fans of the Indian game have associated Bengal, Kerala, Goa and the NorthEast with football in the country, but for a decade and half after independence, Hyderabad was as big a powerhouse as Kolkata was. Like other cities, the British Army had introduced the game to Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Under the patronage of the Nawab of Tarband and the Maharajas of Kakinada and Rajahmundry, the game flourished and the region produced great footballers. Until the early 60s, no other city contributed as many Olympians or international players as Hyderabad did.
One of these players was Yousuf Khan, one of the greatest midfielders India has ever produced. Called the ‘bearded horse’ in his heyday, he comfortably ran more than any of his contemporaries and would complete 11-12 kilometres in a match, numbers more common in modern players. His versatility was incredible. He could play as a stopper back, inside forward or withdrawn forward in addition to the roles he took on in midfield. An astute passer of the ball, he would get into goal scoring positions and finish with accuracy. His tackling was clean and with his long strides, he made for a very elegant player. Long before the term ‘Total Football’ was in vogue, Yousuf was an exponent of it in India.
He started his career in the Hyderabad League in 1953 before joining the legendary Hyderabad City Police in 1956. He stayed with them, through its later incarnation as Andhra Police, till retirement. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal made overtures with lucrative offers, but he stayed loyal to the team and city.
He represented India in the Olympics and Asian Cups held in 1960 and 1964. A two time Asian All-Star, he was the engine of the team that secured India its win at the 1962 Asian Games. He won the Arjuna Award in 1966 in recognition of his contributions to football.
In 1994, he contracted the dreaded Parkinson’s disease, in one of its early public links with traumatic head injuries in Indian sport. A player who laid his body on the line every single time he set foot on the field, there are at least three recorded instances of him having been concussed on the field.
In 2006, he passed away in the obscurity that had by then engulfed Hyderabad football as well. Yousuf Khan, Tulsidas Balaraman, Noor Mohammed and S.K. Azizuddin among others are mere specks in the memory of a city that has forgotten its footballing heritage.
Fateh Hyderabad are nicknamed the ‘Nizams’. Perhaps, there is an effort to maintain a link to the past after all. It was Kenneth Burnett, principal of the Nizam College who organised the first non-white football team in the city. A hundred years later, Hyderabad could do with a proper reboot.