NAT Cover of the book and sketch of Abdul Salam 1-1603977135341
Cover of the book on Abdul Salam Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Former Indian football legends and their stalwart fans in India, the UAE and other Gulf countries will on Friday witness the virtual launch of a book in memory of Kerala’s ‘forgotten’ footballer Puthiyottil Abdul Salam who died as an unsung former UAE expat.

‘Salam Football’ follows the story of the striker who passed away three months ago. The book in Malayalam, the mother tongue of Keralites, has been edited by Dubai-based journalist K.T. Abdurabb.

Narrating the story of Abdul Salam, Abdurabb told Gulf News that the well-known footballer in south India in the 1980s was just known as a Gulf returnee when he died. “Abdul Salam was a skilled goal scorer. He played for Kerala’s state football team in the All India Junior Football Tournament in 1981. He was one of the top scorers in the tournament till the semi-finals. However, he did not get a chance to play in the finals.”

“Later, he joined the Madura Coats FC in Bangalore and he represented Karnataka State in Santosh Trophy in 1983. His scoring ability and football skills were widely appreciated after the Santosh Trophy tournament. He was well-known as the star striker of Madura Coats for over five years,” said Abdurabb.

Abdul Salam was also famous in Sevens football tournaments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He played for well-known Sevens football clubs of those days like Black and White Kozhikode, Blue Max Madura and Brothers Team Areekode.

Abdurabb, who was several years junior to Abdul Salam in school, said he also had had his fanboy moments while watching Abdul Salam play. “Local clubs used to bring footballers from outside to block Abdul Salam. Many women in Kerala used to go to watch football matches because of him.”

NAT Old pictures of footballer Abdul Salam-1603977139411
Abdul Salam during his days as an active footballer. Image Credit: Supplied

In 1984, Madura Coats won the Bangalore League Trophy by defeating Bangalore ITI, which held the trophy for six years, with Abdul Salam being the top scorer of the tournament. “Many a time his name was mentioned in the main headlines in Bangalore newspapers those days. During that time, Abdul Salam got a chance to attend the Indian Football Team Coaching Centre too, but did not get an entry to the team.”

Life in the UAE

After his shining stint in football, he said, Abdul Salam moved to the UAE to earn a livelihood for his family. “In July 1990, he came to the UAE. He was in Abu Dhabi initially and got a chance to play for Abu Dhabi Municipality. But the Gulf War crushed that dream. Since he was a school dropout, he could not get any high profile jobs like his contemporaries who joined government services or big corporate companies back in India. He ended up working as an assistant in a catering unit run by his relative in Ajman for several years.”

Later, in 2007, he left the UAE for his village in Chennamangallur in Kozhikode district of Kerala.

On July 21, 2020, Abdul Salam passed away in his village aged 62. “Surprisingly, even his neighbours were unaware of the fact that he was a national level professional footballer. They knew him mainly as an expat who used to live in the Gulf and had some football background.”

It was when one of Abdul Salam’s fans, E.K Abdul Saleem shared a Facebook post that others fans got to know about his death. Many fans then held a virtual condolence meeting and assigned Abdurabb to come up with a book as a memoir to celebrate the overlooked achievements of Abdul Salam.

However, it was not an easy task, said Abdurabb. “I managed to source copies of old newspaper clippings with reports about Abdul Salam’s victorious matches in the 1980s’ from his family. But it was difficult to get finer details even from his relatives.”

Connecting the dots

What helped him retrieve the glorious stories about the golden time of Abdul Salam were the archives at the Kozhikode District Football Association and the help of P.K. Abdul Hameed at the association to connect with players of those days.

Abdurabb, who has been in the UAE for 30 years, said over the last two months, he interviewed scores of football players, sports journalists and writers in south India, to gather information and conduct fact checks.

Abdul Salam

Former Gulf News photographer Ahmed Kutty, some of the former football players from Kerala who are now expats in GCC countries, Abdul Salam’s previous roommates and colleagues also helped connect the dots. The book consists of articles written by famous football players like former Indian football team captain I.M. Vijayan, former Indian team member U. Sharafali and Premnath Philip and well- known Malayali journalists and writers like K. Aboobacker (Abu), Kamal Varadoor, O. Abdurahman, C.T Abdurahim, Hameed Chennamangallur, O. Abdulla etc.

Vijayan describes Abdul Salam as ‘a legend’ while Sharafali stated that he was a ‘sharp shooter’ and a ‘fast player’.

Kurikesh Mathew, former Kerala state football team captain, who played in Santosh Trophy for ten years, has written that Abdul Salam was the best football player of his times, but misfortune followed him everywhere. An array of footballers, who played for Kerala and Karnataka, have also written about Abdul Salam and football in the book.

The 190-page book consisting of 45 stories, interviews and articles is published by Pendulum Books in Kerala. The cover is designed by Gulf-based artist Basith Khan and illustrations are by Signi Devraj and Shaji Pambala.

The book will be presented to Abdul Salam’s family in his honour during an evening release ceremony in Kerala. Abdul Salam is survived by his wife, one daughter and two sons, of which one is following in the footsteps of the father and currently plays for his college.