Subhani Hassimdeen – Undeterred and undefeated at 70. None would deny the immense interest his writing created, apart from their historical value, particularly, to those of an older vintage. The numerous instances and incidents involving top officials of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL), competitions, matches, tours, selections, leagues and a host of personalities [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Subhani a Football icon of Sri Lanka


Subhani Hasimdeen (Left)

Subhani Hassimdeen – Undeterred and undefeated at 70. None would deny the immense interest his writing created, apart from their historical value, particularly, to those of an older vintage. The numerous instances and incidents involving top officials of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL), competitions, matches, tours, selections, leagues and a host of personalities vividly narrated, made the series exciting, interesting and extremely absorbing.

It was indeed a pleasure to recall and recount some of the events that had a history of well over 60 years. While the younger folks would have got an insight of the past, the older lot would have had nostalgic memories of an era when our Football hit a purple patch.

International victories over Burma, India, and Pakistan, away and at home, tournaments such as the Aga Khan Gold Cup final, Quadrangular Cup final, Vittal Trophy final to name a few. European club encounters were re-enacted by Subhani, through a writing style of his own.

We would never have been privy to this storehouse of information and knowledge, if not for this particularly series. There is no doubt that Subhani is amongst the very few to posses this rich Football heritage, for which, we should be deeply thankful.

Know well, as one of the most outstanding Football players and mentor in local Football, his vast knowledge of the birth and growth of the sport here, makes him a moon amongst the stars in his profession.

It was only after reading his final instalment in the current series in the Sunday Times, that all but bewildered most readers at the colossal knowledge of the game Subhani was blessed with.

Subhani as winger was a treat to watch when in possession of the ball. He cut inside with sheer pace and power. He was the most feared of the foursome Hassimdeen brothers who gave top goalkeepers and the defence a torrid time.

Subhani in his day, could fly, though bereft of wings. He was a veteran of over 60 internationals, and was considered one of the most reliable strikers between 1965 and 1975. The international veteran Subhani is no doubt was the pride of the FFSL during this period.

Subhani hails from a family of Footballers– the 4 brothers who represented Sri Lanka continuously for 35 long years- 1951-1986- is a record worthy of the Guinness Book of Records.

The Hassimdeen brothers from Slave-Island had no equals at representative level in any branch of sport in Sri Lanka. Born to Mohammad Hassimdeen, a tough and towering police constable in the days of Dowbiggin, and to the affable lady Jannan Junus, the 4 brothers, Tuan Naheem, Muzammil, Subhani and Farook, spanned an entire era with their inimitable wizardry and sporting excellence which, to this day, is spoken of with nostalgia.

Subhani’s elder brother Naheem represented Sri Lanka in 1951 against Pakistan and Swiss Grasshoppers in 1956. His second brother Muzzamil who represented Sri Lanka from 1955 to 1968, Captained Sri Lanka in 1964. Under him, Sri Lanka beat the strong Pakistan national team and several top European clubs. He was rated Asia’s Best Goalkeeper in 1961 and tagged “Prince of Goalkeepers” in Sri Lanka. MM was the first Sri Lanka Footballer to play professional Football abroad. He was invited to play for Everton FC in England in 1966. Subhani’s Younger brother Farook represented Sri Lanka in the mid 1980s. He was a national selector and a Brazilian trained coach.

Subhani’s inborn talent was spotted while he was a kid playing inter-playground matches, by his first coach, the late Harry Perera of Newnham Playground – adjoining the old Slave Island Police barrack where his family resided.

His big time in Football started at Zahira College Colombo from 1957 to 1964. He was an outstanding Athlete and Footballer, who was quick to show his prowess at age 19, and climbed to the top when he represented Sri Lanka.

Subhani blossomed out to be a penetrative and deceptive right extreme and represented Eleven Youngsters, Black Square, Victory, Wellawatta Mills and the Royal Ceylon Air Force. He also played for Combined Services, City Football League, Colombo League and Mercantile Leagues, which he successfully led in 1970 and 1971.

He donned the National jersey in 1965 and represented the country at Football till 1975, displaying his inborn skills to his innumerable fans. Subhani played a significant role in helping Sri Lanka win the Agha Khan Gold Cup in 1968. This, incidentally, was the first occasion Sri Lanka won a top drawer Trophy of this kind, abroad. In 1970, he played an important role at the Quadrangular Tournament held in Colombo, in which Sri Lanka were unbeaten champions. His final appearance was at the Vittal Memorial Trophy Tournament held in Tamil Nadu in 1975, where he scored the winning goal for Sri Lanka to enter the finals.

He was on that famous European tour to Israel, Iran, England and West Germany, with his brother Muzzamil, apart from making several other tours to Asian and Middle East countries. Subhani Captained the National team in 1972 at many prestigious tournaments held in India, Malaysia and Singapore.

He has a unique record of being a member of the National team to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Kuwait, Dubai, Iran, Israel, West Germany and England to name a few. Subhani represented Sri Lanka at various international competitions here and abroad, such as the Asian Cup Tournaments, Pre-Olympic competitions, prestigious tournaments such as Merdeka, Pesta Sukan, Jakarta Anniversary, Aga Khan Gold Cup, Vittal Trophy and Quadrangular tournaments. In friendly encounters here and abroad played against top European clubs in the calibre of Nuremberg FC, Pallenberg and Essen FC in Germany, Macabi FC in Israel, Dallas Tornado from USA, Zalgaris and Moscow Dynamo of Russia, Manchester FC and South Hampton of England at home.

Subhani is a qualified and a very knowledgeable coach who has followed many coaching courses here and abroad, conducted by the AFC and FIFA. He was a member of the England Coaches Association from 2001 to 2004.

He coached several schools, clubs and other institutes which won major titles and promoted to top positions. To name a few- St Peters College, Bambalapitiya, Prince of Wales, Moratuwa, St Thomas Prep, Kollupitiya, Red Stars FC, Pettah United FC, Maligawatta Youths, Eleven Youngster SC, Ratnam FC, Sri Lanka Army, Colombo FC, Java Lane FC, Sarasavi FC and Kirulapone FC who were Silver Cup Champions last week, in a tournament conducted by the Colombo Football league.

His National assignments were: National Selector -1988, National Intermediate Coach-1989, Junior National Coach -1996, National Youth Coach Under(U)-16 and U-19 in 1998, Youth Coach U-23 and the Pre-Olympic team in 1999, Senior National Coach in 1999 and Director Youth Football Development in 2000.

Subhani’s best record in coaching the National team was in 1998 in matches played at Bogambara, Kandy. Sri Lanka’s U-19 has been playing in the Asian Youth Championship since 1960. On the occasion in Kandy, when Subhani handled the U-19 team, they beat Bangladesh 2-1, drew 1-1 with Tajikistan, and narrowly lost 0-1 to Kazakhstan. Both these teams played in the Asian circuit for the first time, after playing European Football under the Russian Football Federation. From this Youth team, 18 members played for the National team. Of them, 12 were offered permanent employment by Hatton National Bank. A few of them are still playing for Division I clubs, in tournaments conducted by the FFSL. When he handled the National team in 1999, we held the strong Maldives National team to a 1-1 draw at the SAARC Cup held in Goa, India.

Many say that, whatever Subhani touches turns gold, particularly, with reference to coaching, and we asked him the secret of his success. He simply answered, “There is no magic formula. A sound knowledge of a variety of tactical maneuvers, the ability to impart them to your charges and exemplary conduct are pre-requisites of a successful career,” were his view.

He started his coaching career in 1980 with St Peters College, Bambalapitiya, and to date, has served the game for 36 years.

Today, at 70, this firebrand veteran player and coach is very much up and about, and could easily play 60 minutes of Football with veterans, and coach teams at any level for long hours, with sharp command and demonstration.

Subhani always sees red on hearing and witnessing misdeeds and mismanagement. Also when Football players are given step-motherly treatment by the Administrators. Being a thorough disciplinarian and deeply technical oriented, his approach to administrative matters vastly differs from the usual stereotype approaches.

“Exploitation of Football by officials, under various ruses, has been the order of the day. Some coaches too were no exception for tours, and for a place somewhere, made them sniff and scratch behind the bigwigs,” charged Subhani.

“There are many up and coming young coaches in the country and, if correctly directed, they could be good as any other in Asia. The plea for foreign coaches by some is not only plain cock and bull, but total admission of an inferiority complex within,” was his forthright comment.

Goalkeeper   Kirulapone

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