Get to Know ‘Golondaaj’ Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari: The Father of Indian Football

Meet Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari the father of Indian football. Keep Scrolling! Local Samosa to know how this man changed the history of football in India and how he bagged the title of '‘Golondaaj.'

Aditi Nag
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Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari's initial encounter with a football at the age of 9 marked the beginning of Indian football's journey, not just in terms of the sport itself but also in challenging casteism and racism.

The narratives of Indian football commence with the 8-year-old boy, Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari, whose legacy earned him the title of the 'Father of Indian football.' Even before reaching his teenage years, Sarbadhikari emerged as an influential figure in shaping football culture in colonial India, leaving behind an extraordinary story. 


However, the real story is undisclosed the tale of the father of Indian football’s life and accomplishments is narrated through hit-the-movie screens in the form of a Bengali (Tollywood) film titled Golondaaj (The Gunner).The dramatised biopic directed by Dhrubo Banerjee, starring popular Bengali actor Dev as Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari was released in 2021.

Football was introduced in India in the early-19th century by the British colonisers. Football matches were indeed documented in port cities like Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, but they were largely played by the European community, especially British military and naval personnel residing in India. Nonetheless, 1877 was a significant year. Indian football began to take hold shortly after Queen Victoria was formally crowned Empress of India and during the first Test match played in Melbourne by the English cricket team against Australia the inception of Indian football took root.

Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari, the son of one of Bengal’s ‘bhadralok’ or aristocratic families, was accompanying his mother Hemlata Devi to the Ganges in a horse-drawn carriage. With a ritual to dip into the holy water the mother and son start their day. But this September morning was a bit unusual and delayed. On the way to their journey, young Nagendra happened to see British soldiers engaged in a football match at the Calcutta FC grounds. He was curious and convinced the driver to stop and go out to watch the game up close.


While he was watching, a stray ball bounced towards him, and a British soldier called out to him, saying, 'Kick it to me, boy.' The youthful Nagendra obeyed in amazement.

Indian football expert and historian Novy Kapadia, in his book 'Barefoot To Boots,' says that this was the first-ever recorded instance of an Indian kicking a football.

There's no denying the profound impact of Nagendra's actions on Indian football history, but whether he was the first Indian to kick a football remains a topic of debate. A student at Calcutta's profound Hare School, young Nagendra enthusiastically shared his experience of witnessing and playing football. His passion inspired his peers, which led them to collectively buy a football from Bowbazar's well-known sporting goods shop, Messrs. Manton & Co.

However, the young band of boys unknowingly ended up buying a rugby ball instead of a football and proudly walked with the rugby ball into their school grounds and started playing. Unfortunately, unaware of the rules, what ensued was a clueless attempt at playing football with a rugby ball.

But this drew attention among huge audiences as it was fun to play, and boys seemed to enjoy it. Among the crowd were a group of European teachers from nearby schools and colleges. One GA Stack, a professor at the Presidency College adjoining Hare school, caught an eye of the boys’ antics from his college balcony and curiously came down and asked them which sport exactly they were trying to play. While trying to comprehend the perplexity, the professor gifted the boys' gang an actual football and taught them the actual rules of the game. Another Presidency College professor, JH Gilligand, joined Stack in his endeavors.

He demonstrated remarkable talent in grasping the nuances of the sport. Soon after this, the boys' gang set up the Boys’ Club – the first organized football club in India. This inspired college students from popular institutions like Presidency College, Calcutta Medical College, and St Xaviers College to form football teams of their own.

With the help of his friend and classmate Nagendra Mullick, a member of the royal family based out of the Chorbagan area in Calcutta, they set up the Friend’s Club on the premises of the royal household of Raja Rajendra Mallick. It was a significant step initiated for club football in Calcutta and India. After passing out from school, where he played football for the school team, Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari joined the Presidency College.

In the following years, Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari founded a string of sporting clubs in Calcutta, each bigger and more ambitious than the previous one.

Fight against discriminatory norms

Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari played a pivotal role in Indian football history through his patronage of clubs like Wellington and Sovabazar. Despite facing opposition, he sought to promote inclusivity by welcoming players from diverse backgrounds, such as Moni Das, a potter's son, into Wellington Club. Disillusioned by discrimination, he dissolved the Wellington Club but went on to found the Sovabazar Club in 1887, which accelerated open membership regardless of caste or class affiliations.

Under his guidance, Sovabazar Club achieved notable successes and marked progress, including winning the Trades Cup in 1892 by crushing down the East Surrey Regiment, marking the first favourable outcome of an all-Indian team over a British one. Additionally, he played a pivotal role in establishing the Indian Football Association (IFA) in 1892, laying the groundwork for structured football administration in India. Even though declining the position of a leader, Sarbadhikari's contributions solidified his lasting impact and earned with dignity the title of the father of Indian football long before his passing in 1940.

Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari ‘Golondaaj’ Nagendra Prasad father of Indian Football