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Looking back into Bangladesh football in the 80s

Dhaka stadium, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Abahanii, Muktijodha Sangshad, Brothers Union, Azad Sporting, Delhi Asiad

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Looking back into Bangladesh football in the 80s

This is the first installment of an article by Rafiqul Ameer on the past of Bangladesh football.

The 1980s was the golden era of club football in Dhaka. Any match involving Mohammedan or Abahanii would draw huge crowd at the Dhaka stadium. The rivalry between the two rivals was at its peak in this era.

Mohammedan, with their black and white jersey, was the traditional power of Dacca football since the 1950s. They represented the old traditions of Bangladesh football.  Abahani, on the other hand, was the symbol of youth. The Dhanmondi team was a great favorite of young generation; and the Eastern gallery was normally reserved for the sky-blue fans.

While two giants dominated the Dhaka football at the time; it would be wrong to say that the local football was all about them. BJMC, Brothers Union, Rahamatganj MFS and Muktijodha Sangshad frequently formed strong teams and often caused troubles for the giants. Wari AC and Azad Sporting enjoyed the tags of the ‘Giant Killers’. These teams were also great hubs for introducing new talents to Dhaka football.

This decade also saw some impressive displays by our national squad. In the Delhi Asiad of 1982, Bangladesh defeated Malaysia 2-1. Bangladesh’s debut in WC qualifiers in in 1985 saw impressive victories against Indonesia and Thailand. While 1989 campaign wasn’t so successful, the national team ended the decade on a high, by winning the President’s Gold Cup here in Dhaka in the summer of 1989.

In this two-part article, I would be looking back at the major footballing events of the country during the 1980s. In the first part I would focus on the club football. In the 2nd part I would look at our national team’s achievements.

The decade started well for the black and white faithfuls (like me), the MSC did the double that year. They shared the title in the inaugural Federation cup with Brothers Union at the start of the season and then convincingly won the league title. Only a 3-2 defeat against Brothers denied us an unbeaten season. The highlight was an impressive 3-0 victory against our arch rivals.

The most impressive part for MSC was that it was a young team built around emerging talents. Up front, Salam Murshedi, Mosabber and Abdul Gaffar impressed everyone with their skills and hard work. Badal Roy, the no. 10, was the main playmaker. In defense, Abu Yousuf, signed from Rahamatganj, became as solid as a rock. The fullbacks Abul and Swapan were very good in overlapping and helping in the attacks.

It was a disappointing year for the sky blues as they finished only fourth. They suffered double defeats against the minnows Azad Sporting. Yet, they recovered form this setback to dominate Dhaka football in the first half of the 1980s. Abahani won the league title in1981, 83,84 and 85.

In 1981, they made two great signings; central defender Pakir Ali was brought from Sri Lanka, while midfielder Ashish Bhadra joined from Rahamatganj. The Ashish –Babul combination in the midfield served both the club and the country with great distinction. Salahuddin remained a prolific goal scorer till his retirement in 1984. After that, SM Aslam became the club’s main mark’s man. Chunnu was the best left winger of the country in the first half of the 80’s. Samrat Hossain Emily was signed from Wari in 1983, and he enjoyed 3 successive titles with the sky Blues. Though enormously talented, he was very injury prone; so Abahnai released him after 1985. He joined the rival camp and won three successive titles with MSC; thus creating a unique record in Dhaka league.

The 1985 season was a memorable one for the football lovers of the country. First, in a bold move the Dhaka football authority introduced the 3 point system in the league. At that time, only the English League used this system. There was drama inside the Abahani camp as well. Salahuddin, who had retired the previous year, was made the head coach. That meant Ali Imam, who had won successive league titles was shown the exit door. He took charge of Brothers, determined to take revenge.

Indeed, Brothers finished the first part of the season at the top of the table. MSC was 2 points behind while Abahani was 3 points further adrift.  Wasim Iqbal was the main playmaker for the Gopibagh team. Mosaddek was a relentless worker in the midlfield, while skipper Liton was in prolific goal scoring form.

But then the drama started in the super league.  Both Brothers and MSC dropped points against weaker teams. Still, Brothers had one hand on the trophy as they led Abahani 2-0 in a crunch match; but then the sky blues produced a memorable comeback to win 3-2. A 0-0 draw in the final match secured the 3rd successive title for Abahani.

We were getting desperate for success; and thankfully our boyz won the title in 1986. The 1987 season saw another exciting title race. This season also saw the level of football In the Dhaka league reach its peak. MSC signed Golam Reza Naljegar from Iran. He took over the playmaker’s role from Badal Roy. Naljegar is one of the best players ever to play in the Dhaka football. No less impressive were Abahan’s duo from Iraq- Samir Shaiqiri and Karim Alavi. But it wasn’t all about the foreign recruits. Shabbir emerged as a new star for MSC. Though they played for rival teams, Shabbir and Aslam showed wonderful understanding while playing in national colors. Munna of Abahani was gradually becoming the best footballer in south Asia.

The strength of club football in Dhaka at the time can be judged by the fact that in 1988 MSC defeated the champions of Iran 2-1 at the Mirpur stadium to qualify for the main round of AFC club cup in Malaysia. There they created an early shock by beating the North Korean champions before eventually getting eliminated in the group stage.

Back to the 1987 season, MSC needed to win their final match against Abahani to have any chance of retaining their title. The topsy-turvy match was heading for a 2-2 draw when Babul, the national team star intervened. From 1977 to 1986 Babul was a hero of the sky blue fans. But, here he was wearing the black and white jersey. His late late winner meant that two giants finish equal on points. The first play- off ended 0-0, but MSC won the 2nd play-off 2-0.

MSC completed the hat-trick winning the 1988-89 title. This time the league was held at the newly built Mirpur stadium. Interestingly, the home of cricket was originally built as a football stadium.

The Other clubs: BJMC was the league champions of 1979, and they remained a strong force in the first half of the new decade. They were runners up in 1980. SM Aslam, signed from Victoria SC, was their prolific goal scorer during the 1980-82 period.

Brothers Union from Gopibagh, coached by Gaffur Baluch, emerged in the mid-1970s as a great hub of nurturing young talents for Dhaka football. Even after Baluch left the club in the mid-1980s, the tradition remained. Mohsin, the national team captain was the top goal scorer of the Dacca League in 1980. Sadly, his career ended soon following a tragic accident in Khulna.

Wasim Iqbal, perhaps was the greatest ever player to come from Brothers. A right winger, he could also play the role of a creative midfielder. Apart from Wasim, Brothers also produced Hassanuzzaman Bablu, a relentless workhorse in the midfield, plus reliable defenders Ajmat and Mani.

Brothers shared the 1980 Federation cup with MSC, and in 1981 they shared the prestigious Aga Khan Gold Cup with the Bangkok Bank club of Thailand. The final ended 1-1. This was the last edition of the event. Thus, Brothers is the only Dhaka team to lift this cup after our independence. They were very unlucky not to win the 1985 league title.  Brothers’ first solo success came in the 1991 Federation Cup.

Rahamatganj MFS were the runners up in 1977, and although they couldn’t match similar success in the 1980s, they produced some fine talents; Ashish, Abu Yousuf, Jonny, Alok, Kaiser Hamid, to name just a few. Wari AC and Azad SC were the giant killers of the time. In 1982, Wari finished 4th with Emily emerging as their main target man. Emily then went on to enjoy great success with both the giants of Dhaka football.

In the 2nd part I would like to look back at the performances of the Bangladesh team in international football.

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