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Now we know: The name’s Beshkar, Majid Beshkar

Arguably, the best foreign footballer to play in India? Probably so

By Angshuman Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 13.08.19, 3:57 AM
  • Updated 13.08.19, 3:57 AM
  • 4 mins read
Majid Beshkar during a media conference at the East Bengal club on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Majid Beshkar. Not Bishkar or Baskar. Calcutta never got that correct. That’s the first thing Majid told The Telegraph, a newspaper he still remembers, at his hotel room on Sunday afternoon.

In town for East Bengal’s centenary celebrations, the Iranian football legend’s tryst with the city, which he enthralled with his magical skills once, comes after 32 years.

“My mind is flooded with memories. Park Street, New Market, Victoria Memorial, the Maidan and, of course, the Howrah Bridge. It’s great to be back… makes me nostalgic,” he said.

Now 63, age has sketched wrinkles on his skin. But his smile is as infectious as it used to be during his playing days. “Is it?” a fit-as-a-fiddle Majid asks. “I am keeping myself fit.”

Majid came into our collective consciousness in 1980. A 23-year-old Iranian, along with Jamshid Nassiri and Mahmud Khabbasi, made the Maidan watch in awe what quality football meant — he was an attacking midfielder but more so a thinking footballer who planned his every move.

Majid doesn’t remember much about his playing days in Calcutta though (for East Bengal and then Mohammedan Sporting). But the moment the Federation Cup semi-final against Punjab Police was used as a reference, his eyes lit up.

“Yes, I remember that match for East Bengal. I think Jamshid got two goals and I scored one. There was a player from Punjab Police who was very tough… Can’t remember the name. Tall guy…”

“Manjit Singh,” he was prodded.

“Yes, yes,” Majid remembered. “That was my best game in India. I do not remember much about those days. May be when I meet some footballers from that time I would be able to recollect something,” he added.

There are so many myths that surround the Iranian. Stories of a rare talent going astray for leading a reckless life. Missed practice sessions, drinking binges, narcotics.

“That’s past. I don’t want to talk about it. I am one of those who saw a liberated Iran and went back when it was under the clergy. Those days life wasn’t easy you know… The 1979 revolution, then the war with Iraq... I was not being able to contact my parents back in Khorramshahr. That took a toll on my personal life, as well on my football,” Majid said.

“Then a friend came here to take me home. When I went back, initially it was difficult. But I adapted… I am working in the law department and coaching the ex-players for an Iranian legends’ team.”

Iran being a football-crazy nation, women too passionately follow the game. But women are not allowed to watch matches from the stands on the ground that there will be a high risk of violence or verbal abuse against them.

Jafar Panahi, in his award-winning 2006 film Offside, showed how some football-mad girls slipped into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium dressed as boys to watch Team Melli (as the Iranian national side is known) play Bahrain in a 2006 World Cup qualifier.

“Have you seen the film?” this reporter asks Majid. The great man turns to his nephew Farid Mehrava and says “Panahi? Offside?”

Farid says he has seen the film, adding: “We cannot watch those films in Iran.”

Majid continues. “Look, Iran is different. India is different. Here Hindus, Christians and Muslims co-exist in harmony. It’s a very liberated place. In Iran, we cannot watch those films. But if you are insisting, I must watch Offside, I would definitely try during my brief stay here,” he says.

Does he follow the Iranian national team? “Yes. I like Sardar Azmoun’s style.

“He is very good. We played well in the last World Cup, could have qualified for the knock-out round with a little bit of luck.”

Who’s the greatest Iranian footballer according to Majid? Is it Ali Daei, the man who still holds the record for most international goals in men’s football? “He has retired. He was very good,” says Majid.

My biggest regret is not playing in the World Cup in Argentina. I still feel sad about it. Even one minute in the World Cup would have been enough

Majid Beshkar

Majid then spoke about his 1978 World Cup jaunt. “I played the Youth Cup in 1977. Then the under-23 squad and suddenly I was told I would be in the World Cup squad. At that time, I was the youngest Iranian to be in the Cup squad. But I did not get a chance to play. If you ask me, I do not regret failing to prolong my football career. My biggest regret is not playing in the World Cup in Argentina. I still feel sad about it. Even one minute in the World Cup would have been enough,” he said. Iran finished fourth in their group, drawing with Scotland and losing to Peru (4-1, Teófilo Cubillas getting a hat-trick) and the Netherlands (3-0, Rob Rensenbrink netting all three).

What about his friendship with Jamshid, who did not return to Iran and is living happily in Calcutta?

“Oh, we played together since we were young. For the local team, for Iran age-group side, here in Jabalpur, the Aligarh Muslim University, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. We bonded so well. I met him on Sunday after 32 years. I was so happy to see him. He has become thin, I told him that,” he gets a tad emotional.

“You know, I was so happy to hear that Jamshid’s son (Kiyan) has become a professional footballer. He has signed for Mohun Bagan. It’s a big thing. I wish him all the best.”

Ever since his disappearance from limelight in the late eighties, Majid had been difficult to trace. “During the Asian Games, someone in the Iranian delegate leaked my number. From then on, I think I have got 100 calls from Calcutta. I find it surprising that even today I am so relevant in this city. I got a glimpse of that in the airport early on Sunday,” he says.

As the interview was nearing an end, Farid had a request. “Is it possible to get some photos and reports of his playing days? We do not have records of his playing days.”

Majid butts in. “Yes please. I would love to see those.”

While Majid’s nephew searches for records of his uncle’s playing days in the Maidan, the city has “magician Majid” etched in its memory.

Arguably, the best foreign footballer to play in India? Probably so. The spell he cast still has the city in its thrall.