Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 63-India’s Barefoot World Cup That Never Happened (1950)

Despite the fact that football on the domestic scene is more popular than cricket in some areas, it has been a sad and even quite pathetic history for the Indian national side. The sport had been played in India as long as anywhere else in the world thanks to the British and their little Empire going great guns. The league in India is said to also be one of the first leagues in history but much of this is glossed over or lost in time.

The national side hadn’t bothered to get a team together and play competitive football (they did tour Australia before WW2) let alone try to qualify for the World Cup before the Second World War but they tried to get to first post war tournament which was to be held in Brazil in 1950. In what turned out to be an earlier version of Australia winning their first Winter Olympics gold medal, the other three challengers in Asia to take on India for the Asian spot at the World Cup withdrew and India were handed the golden ticket to Brazil by default.

The only sticking point for the Indian FA was the fact that the players didn’t use boots, along with other reasons such as the Indian FA not realising how big the World Cup was. It was all well and good in the domestic league to play in bare feet, and in India’s fiery derby clashes with Pakistan and the like on the subcontinent, but FIFA soon rejected the notion that India would be able to run out at the big one sans flip flops.

After FIFA had put its foot down (no pun intended) the Indian FA soon withdrew the team from the tournament and the 1950 World Cup went ahead without an Asian country making only its second appearance (that would happen in 1954 when South Korea made their debut and were roundly thrashed). In recent times historians have argued that it wasn’t just only because of this that India didn’t go. It has been argued that a lack of money also prevented them going even though FIFA has contradicted this saying they would’ve paid for most of their fare to Brazil. There was also the claim that India wanted to take the Olympic more seriously than some football tournament. There was also still a political vacuum in the country following their break from Great Britain and split into India and Pakistan, along with the assassination of Gandhi.

No matter what happened this can be seen as a memorable moment for the circumstances in which India went from being a possible pioneer in the AFC to being a quirky footnote in the tournament’s history. Not only had India missed out on being only the second Asian team in the World Cup (behind the Dutch East Indies) but they also denied their star player a chance to play on the biggest stage.

The veteran Mohammed Abdul Salim had played in two matches for Glasgow Celtic in Scotland but had returned home because of homesickness. Even the money offered by Celtic couldn’t keep the player, with Salim asking Celtic to donate the money to an orphanage. Since the 1950 withdrawal India has hardly made a dent in football, with the exception of a runner up spot at an Asian Cup and a couple of Olympic Games appearances.

India didn’t even start to try and qualify regularly again until the 1986 World Cup. Despite the lameness of the national side the domestic league still has a decent turnout with East Bengal being the heartland of the sport. In 1997 around 130,000 had shown up to see a derby match. Perhaps they should stick to cricket, perhaps they should have just pulled out like the other 3 Asian qualifiers but India’s crack at Brazil 1950 is worth a mention in the history of the tournament over the years.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Fascinating story DG. Hard to understand why India followed the colonial lead with cricket, but not football.
    I found the Wikipedia profile of Mohammed Abdul Salim. Amazing – playing against professionals in bare feet in Scotland in the 1930’s.

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