Vol. 4 Num 200 Tue. December 16, 2003  

Swadhin Bangla: More than a football team

If the power of football was ever used as a weapon to fight a war then the name of Swadhin Bangla Football Team will go down in the history of the people's game as second to none.

It was in 1971 when blood and tears were shed by millions of peace loving people during the War of Liberation against the brutal Pakistan occupational forces that some bold footballers and sports organisers floated the idea of a team to spread the word 'Independence' throughout the rest of the world.

The glorious journey of Swadhin Bangla had its roots in Kolkata in June of that turbulent year. Shamsul Haq formed a sports association titled Bangladesh Krira Samity and on the same day it decided to organise a football team that would play a series of exhibition matches across India to generate public support for the creation of a new country on the world map.

The dream was rapidly becoming a reality when Aakashbani, a popular radio channel transmitted from Kolkata during the Liberation War, appealed to players to gather under one umbrella to inspire their brothers and sisters in arms.

Three men with a vision the first secretary of Bangladesh Krira Samity Lutfor Rahman, former footballer and coach Ali Imam and former East End Club footballer Saidur Rahman Patel set the wheels in motion.

And very soon around thirty players signed up for trials under the supervision of coach Nani Bashak. The father of famous movie star Shabnam (Jharna Bashak) then selected 25 to attend the camp. A few more players were later included in the team once it started to tour India.

A room was hired in the Coca-Cola building near Park Circus for the accommodation of the players while the Park Circus ground was designated as a practice venue.

The day finally dawned on Swadhin Bangla football team when Zakaria Pintoo had the honour to lead the pioneering footballers at the Khishnanagar Stadium in West Bengal's Nadia district on July 24.

The game against the Nadia District Eleven ended in a 2-2 draw. But impact had a far-reaching consequence.

Former BCB vice-president Tanveer Mazhar Islam Tanna was the manager of the historic team that played sixteen matches across India. And for the record they won 3, lost two and drew one.

Wherever Pintoo's men went be it in West Bengal, Maharashtra or Bihar they were greeted with open arms. It was a sight to behold for all present at each and every venue when they paraded with a symbolic red and green flag with a map of yet to be born Bangladesh was embedded in it on the ground.

Thirty-two years might have elapsed since the victory was achieved but one man still cherishes a small part he played in Bangladesh's road to self-determination.

"I still remember that day. It is the most memorable moment of my life being the first person to hoist the Bangladesh flag outside the country. It was also a historic moment for Bangladesh football," said Pintoo, now aged 65, while talking to The Daily Star Sport.

He also said that the Swadhin Bangla football team would remain like an eternal flame irrespective of cast, creed and political affiliation.

While going down memory lane the big central defender from Naogoan also recalled the pain his teammates had to endure during their unique battle.

The western media lashed at the India football administration after the first match at Nadia. The Indian government suspended the District Magistrate of Nadia for fielding an official team. The Indian football association (IFA) was also forced to cancel the affiliation Nadia District Sports Association for hosting the Swadhin Bangla team.

"After that incident the teams we played against did not use their official name. Famous Mohun Bagan had to play under the banner of Goshtopal Eleven. The match in Bombay against Maharashtra Eleven was also very interesting as former Indian captain and Nawab of Pataudi Mansur Ali Khan led the side and scored one goal," said Pintoo.

"I can still remember Indian film icon Dilip Kumar appearing in the game against Maharashtra and donated one lakh rupees to the team.

"We were about leave for Delhi to play another match when we heard the news that we had been waiting for nine months. The day was December 16, the air was full of euphoria and we joined the never ending celebration."

As the nation celebrates its 32nd Victory Day today we feel its fitting to pay tribute to the members of the Swadhin Bangla team. Five heroes Lutfor Rahman, Nani Bashak, Mahmud, Lalu, and Ali Imam have sadly passed away.

While three players Enayetur Rahman Khan, Saidur Rahman Patel and Shahjahan are now living in the USA. Govinda Kundu and Nihar have migrated to India while goalkeeper Aniruddha has settled in Dubai.

The rest are somewhere in the country.

But they will never be forgotten.

The Swadhin Bangla Football Team:

Players: Zakaria Pintoo (captain), Protap Shankar Hazra (vice-captain), Kazi Salahuddin, Nowsheruzzaman, Lt Nurunnabi, Taslim, Ainul Haque, Khokon (Rajshahi), Lutfor (Jessore), Sheikh Ashraf Ali, Amalesh Sen, Hakim (Jessore), Aminul Islam Suruz (Barisal), Bimal (Chittagong), Shuvash Chandra Shaha (Narshingdi), Mujibur Rahman, Kaikobad, Siru, Sattar, Sanjit, Momen Joarder (Chuadanga), Saidur Rahman Patel, Piara (formder secretary, Kushtia DSA), Enayetur Rahman Khan, Shahjahan, Aniruddha, Nihar, Govinda Kundu, late Ali Imam, late Mahmud and late Lalu.

Officials: Late Lutfor Rahman (Secretary, Bangladesh Krira Samity), Tanveer Mazhar Islam Tanna (manager) and late Nani Bashak (coach).

The Swadhin Bangla football team. Courtesy Photo: Zakaria Pintoo