Football has been a part of Indian sport for the better part of the previous century. Incidentally, it was a by-product of sorts of the patient fight for independence from the British. The clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan S.C originated as a result of the fight. The british still dominate in the game of football. But Indians are fighting to gain credibility in the game.
The Days With No Boots
Among the barefooted and extremely well built men of Calcutta was a man named Mohammed Salim Bachi Khan. He was a winger for the now defunct Chittaranjan Football Club. It was clear from the start that Salim was a player of a different breed.
His immense talent and potential soon reached the ears of many European clubs. Scottish club Celtic showed keen interest in the Indian winger. Therefore in 1936, with India on the brink of becoming independent, Mohammed Salim became the first player from the Indian subcontinent to feature in colors of a European outfit. He earned heaps of praise from the management and the crowd alike. His time at Celtic has becoming part of sporting folklore. A homesick Salim returned to Calcutta within a year to rejoin Mohammedan S.C.
The Rise Of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Prior to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, a handful of Indian players had made trips abroad. The list included the likes of Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Pal. However, none of them have made a start for their respective European top tier clubs. Despite being snapped up by Portuguese side Sporting Clube B, Sunil Chhetri remains the only Indian player to feature in the MLS for Kansas City Wizards.
Stabaek F.C was a completely unknown club in India before the signing of the big custodian. Coming through the ranks in Indian football, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made over a hundred appearances for the I League outfit Kingfisher East Bengal. His reflexes and plain physique caught the eye of many a European side, thus making him a sensible signing for the Tippeligaen side Stabaek.
Glory After 79 Years
The 22 year old lad from Chandigarh quashed the 79 year old voodoo, when he took his place in the starting XI when his side faced Follo Fotballklubb in a friendly game. Despite letting in the one goal in a dominant 4-1 victory, Gurpreet made history as he became the first player to start for a top tier European club. Following in the footsteps of Mohd. Salim, the lanky 22 year old has firmly set his sights on glory and the trophies that the popular European football structure has to offer.
For the Indian football fraternity, number 22 is of very little or no significance. However, now, number 22 will be forever remembered by all as the first kit number worn by an Indian player in top tier European Football.
In the Media
Apart from being the center of attention of the Indian media, Ten Network anchor Joe Morrison went on to commend the feat achieved by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. He stated,
“I don’t think people fully appreciate Gurpreet’s achievement. How many have tried and failed to make it in Europe before and here is a boy who through his own hard work and ability has not only earned himself a permanent contract but also now has broken into the first team. He could quite easily have gone for the glitz and glamour of the ISL but anyone who knows football knows that the standard in Europe is probably four of five levels above that of India.”
Moreover, there was an unexpected and interesting development in the gaming industry. Acknowledging the fact that he is now a player of Stabaek, EA Sports decided to put his name on the Stabaek starting lineup in the FIFA 2015 video game. Sports Rediscovered hopes that Gurpreet will continue to be part of the game !
— Gurpreet Singh (@GurpreetGK) September 27, 2014