Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

There were significant reports prior to the 2018 Indian Super League (ISL) campaign that the city of Hyderabad would finally be represented in the league. Fateh Hyderabad AFC was mooted as the likely team to represent the region. Owned by Hyderabad entrepreneurs, Yogesh Mourya and Aditya Narayanan, it was thought that the club founded in 2015 would be the ideal fit for the ISL and to bring top-flight football back to the city. Unfortunately, that dream eventually failed to materialise, with I-League sides, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan now seemingly more likely to join a new 12-team ISL in 2019. The disappointment for football fans in Hyderabad begs the question: will this city ever have ISL football here?

Hyderabad is a city with a unique sporting heritage in India. When you consider its rich history, Hyderabad has been the proving ground for many of India’s biggest sports personalities outside of cricketing circles; namely Sania Mirza and P.V. Sindhu. In fact, the locals are justifiably proud of the way in which their city has contributed hugely to the diversity and success of all kinds of Indian sports. Interestingly, few locals will realise that Hyderabad was once India’s number-one footballing hotbed. The city was home to some of the most promising individual talent, teams and managers the nation has ever witnessed. If its “Football Factory” – a conveyor belt of Hyderabad talent – existed today, there is no doubt in many people’s minds that Hyderabad would rival Kolkata for the nickname of India’s “Football Capital”.

The city was actually late on the football scene. Football wasn’t commonplace until well into the 1920s, but from the moment it arrived, it captured the hearts and minds of Hyderabadis. In fact, so popular was football among the locals that the Hyderabad Football Association (HFA), now the Telangana Football Association, was soon formed to provide a much-needed professional approach to the city’s leagues. Following the establishment of the HFA, the city experienced a raft of new teams formed throughout Hyderabad. Hyderabad Police Club, Ordinance Factory, Secunderabad Blues and many others soon became household names among the city’s football fraternity.

In fact, it was the Hyderabad Police Club that would become the major footballing force, not just in Hyderabad but in the whole of India too. The club won the Ashe Gold Cup against Royal Air Force Football Team in 1943 and never looked back; winning the Rover’s Cup for five successive years in the early 1950s and the State League title for 11 seasons on the trot. It was a legacy that even the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Bob Paisley would have been proud of. The two figureheads to mastermind the success of HPC were Robert Andrew Fruval and Syed Abdul Rahim. The former was the glue that held the club together in the early 1940s – coaching and captaining the team to glory in the early days before handing over the reins to Abdul Rahim AKA Rahim Saab. Saab was the club’s first full-time coach, but he was also appointed coach of the Indian national side and worked simultaneously as the HFA’s Secretary – holding down three key footballing roles would be unimaginable in 2018.

Rahim Saab oversaw the national side’s “golden era” with a squad containing many Hyderabadis. The 1956 Olympic Games side had eight Hyderabadi stars playing regularly, for example. India’s fourth-placed finish at those Games indicated a bright future for Indian football, but sadly the national team’s exploits have fallen by the wayside in more recent decades. The introduction of the ISL was partly to breathe new life into the national squad, helping homegrown talent by playing alongside a string of overseas stars, week in, week out. A recent Betway interview with former Arsenal academy keeper, Graham Stack shone a spotlight on how the likes of Kerala Blasters have utilised their overseas quota to good effect, building a rapport between the foreign and Indian players. Stack insisted that many of the local players “looked to [the overseas players] for a bit of guidance” and with the quality of football steadily improving in the ISL year-on-year, it seems that the league has been a huge success to date. The foreign quota has declined in the last 12 months too, allowing for more homegrown talent to flourish.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that a Hyderabad team is not represented in the ISL. Not since Hyderabad Police Club’s fall from grace in the 1960s has the city had a football team to truly savour. It’s high time that something was done about this to help the next generation of Hyderabadis make their own footballing history.

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