Takeaway

The forgotten footballer

Mohini Chandola | Updated on August 07, 2020 Published on August 07, 2020

Man on a mission: Born in 1927, Shraddha Nand Chandola (second from left in the front row) devoted most of his teenage years to sports, primarily football

A granddaughter joins the dots of her dadu’s life as a player through yellowed news clippings and anecdotes

Lending a hand, however unwilling, in spring cleaning could lead to pleasant surprises. I discovered this one afternoon eight years ago, when I stumbled upon yellowed and damp newspaper clippings with my family name in the headlines. While it was a joy to reconnect with pieces of history tucked away under a mattress, I was also flummoxed to learn that my paternal grandfather had played international football. Many afternoons have gone by since then, and I am still trying to connect the dots of my grandfather’s career in the sport. The news clippings were a good starting point. Along the way, my grandmother and my father filled me in with anecdotes.

Born in 1927, Shraddha Nand Chandola — dadu for me — devoted most of his teenage years to sports, primarily football. He first made headlines for winning the Delhi Badminton Championship in the early ’40s. In the subsequent years he shifted focus to football. One among five sons and two daughters, he never had enough money for luxuries such as sporting gear. He stuffed newspapers into punctured footballs and even played in worn-out studs or barefoot. Over the years, he played for major Indian football clubs such as Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan, but his association as a centre-forward with Simla Youngs, founded in Delhi in the late-’30s, was the longest and the most cherished.

On the ball: SN Chandola’s association as a centre-forward with Simla Youngs, founded in Delhi in the late-’30s, was the longest and the most cherished

 

The year 1949 was eventful for dadu. In July that year, he played for Delhi for the Santosh Trophy but lost to West Bengal, who were the winners for six consecutive years (1947-52).

The same year in August he was selected to represent India, as part of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), in a bilateral series against Afghanistan. Led by legendary football player Sheoo Mewalal (who emerged a top scorer in the 1951 Asian Games), my grandfather travelled across the border to Kabul with only ₹100 in his pocket.

He clung to that meagre amount as his well-off and more adventurous colleagues played rummy in the train. Exploring the city of Kabul after a match, he came across an Afghan dry fruits seller who gifted him fistfuls of cashews, raisins, and dates out of love for “Indians” who “are our brothers only”. It was a successful year for AIFF with the Indian team bagging victories against both Afghanistan and Ceylon.

The winning streak continued in October as Simla Youngs won 1-0 against the Moghals at the All India Tagore Memorial football tournament in New Delhi.

With every match won, dadu gained as much popularity as the club he represented. He even acquired a group of fans who would follow him as he rode his bicycle around the town saying, “Yeh dekho Chandola cycle pe jaa raha hain, joote taang ke (look, there goes Chandola on his cycle, with his shoes strung on it).” It also won him the admiration of a Gorkha man who wanted to gift him land in Dehradun — an offer that he should have accepted, dadu later said jokingly.

Big wins also brought in money that could buy dadu and his teammates a meal in an upscale café in Delhi. The owner of the cafe, however, refused to accept payment for the pastries and other desserts the team had sampled. He just wanted the squad to win every match for Delhi.

Stop play: Chandola followed his father’s wishes, joined the Uttar Pradesh police and restricted his engagement with football to matches for the Northern Range police team

 

In 1950, dadu began training for the first Asian Games in Delhi, which were postponed to the following year. However, he suffered a ligament injury during training and was forced to withdraw. That same year, East Bengal Club invited the 23-year-old to become a member but the official letter landed in the hands of my great-grandfather, a pandit of the Arya Samaj who performed yajnas every day at home . The increasing societal pressure of having the son in a secure job prevented the man from sharing the news with dadu.Dadu got to know of the invitation several years later, when he was in Bareilly preparing for a competitive examination to enter police services. He also learnt about the letter of rejection his father sent to the club. He followed his father’s wishes, joined the Uttar Pradesh police as a sub inspector and restricted his engagement with football to matches for the Northern Range police team. He retired from the forces as an additional superintendent in 1988.

Remembering dadu: Chandola retired from Uttar Pradesh police in 1988

 

My relationship with dadu was quiet. We shared more silence than words during the long hours we spent in each other’s company. My siblings and I spent most of our non-school hours with dadu, huddled around his rocking chair. He would, sometimes, recall moments from his football career and we’d ask him a billion questions. He was also an excellent reading partner.

We lived in a joint family for a while and I remember how eagerly we grandchildren waited for him to return from his evening walk, bearing Ravalgaon toffees for us. The sound of the wrappers rubbing against the cloth of his pockets triggered excitement among us. He would make us fall in line and watch me distributing two toffees a head.

On April 7, 2010, dadu died of cancer of the oesophagus. At the time of death, he was surrounded by friends and family. I chanced upon the secret folder of newspaper clippings — collected by the same father who made him choose the security of a job over football — shortly after dadu left us.

Much was lost in our amiable silence. I spent years piecing together the life of a man in yellowed cut-outs. And I wish I knew more.

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Published on August 07, 2020
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