For Pakistan, he was the fourth captain of their men’s national football team. A short but sturdy centre-forward who played a pioneering role in establishing the game in a newborn nation. A coach who shaped future generations of footballers.
For Kerala’s Malappuram, he was ‘Irumban’ — literally the iron man, whose barefooted shots shook makeshift goalposts and made helpless goalkeepers shudder at the thought of facing up to him.
As Pakistan come to India for the SAFF Championship, after missing the 2015 edition when India last hosted the tournament, it’s worth looking at ‘Irumban’ Moideen Kutty’s life which took a sudden turn at the turn of India’s Independence in 1947.
Moideen Kutty was born in Malappuram, then under the Madras Presidency in British India, in the second half of the 1920s. He took to football during his days at the model high school in Malappuram and led the team to wins in inter-school tournaments. After completing his matriculation, he joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1944 and played football wearing boots for the first time during his training days in Bangalore. Soon, he was a vital cog in the Royal Indian Air Force football team.
But how did he end up in Pakistan?
Very few people who interacted with Moideen Kutty are alive in India today to tell that story. Ahmed Kutty, a former Malappuram district football association office-bearer, extracted precious information about Moideen Kutty’s life after much persuasion during one of his rare visits to his birthplace decades ago.
“When Partition happened in 1947, Moideen Kutty was with the Royal Indian Air Force. Most of his Air Force teammates were from the western Punjab Province, which ended up being part of the newly-formed country Pakistan. So, along with them, he also chose Pakistan so that he could continue playing with them. In many ways, he was unaware of the larger consequences of Partition and his decision,” Ahmed Kutty told The Indian Express.
“He believed India and Pakistan would be two friendly countries and cross-border movements would be smooth. It was only later he realised that he was awfully wrong and these two countries were likely to stay hostile to each other for the conceivable time,” added Ahmed Kutty.
Moideen Kutty thus became a member of the Royal Pakistan Air Force, which was carved out from the Royal Indian Air Force as part of the division of the military forces of British India, and continued to play football in his adopted country.
Kerala-based football historian Jafar Khan, in his book Panth paranja Malappuram kissa, noted that Moideen Kutty made his debut for the Pakistan national team in 1952 in the Asian Quadrangular Tournament, which also featured India, Ceylon and Burma. He scored a goal against hosts Ceylon to announce his arrival, and in the next edition held in Burma in 1953, he netted a brace against Ceylon in Pakistan’s 6-0 win.
The following year, Calcutta hosted the four-nation tournament, known popularly as Colombo Cup, and Moideen Kutty turned up for Pakistan against India on Indian soil for the only time in his career, suffering a 1-3 defeat in front of reportedly a crowd of over 1 lakh people.
Moideen Kutty was made captain of the Pakistan team for the 1954 Asian Games in Manila, and he created an immediate impact, scoring a goal and assisting another in Pakistan’s 6-2 triumph over Singapore. In the 1950s, he was part of the Pakistan Services teams in Army football tournaments featuring India, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.
In 1956, after his playing career, he became the coach of the Pakistan Services and Air Force teams. Later, he coached the Pakistan senior team for a short period and various youth teams for over 12 years.
For his contributions to sports, Moideen Kutty received the Pride of Performance Award, one of the top civilian awards in Pakistan, from President Yahya Khan in 1969.
In 2010, Dawn, the premier English newspaper in Pakistan, published an article on the country’s football history. It mentioned Moideen Kutty among the finest Pakistani footballers of the 1950s, along with the likes of Qayyum Changezi, Masood Fakhri, Taj Muhammad, Jamil Akhtar, Ghulam Rabbani, Turab Ali, Moosa Ghazi, Hussain Killer and Ahmed Ali Phullo.
Moideen Kutty’s life partner Sainaba, who passed away in 1987, also hailed from Malappuram. They had two sons and three daughters, and the family lived in Karachi.
Though procedural hurdles were aplenty, Moideen Kutty used to come to Malappuram to visit his mother and brothers in the 1980s and ’90s, recollected Ahmed Kutty, who happened to be a cousin of Sainaba.
Out to cover India’s cricket tour of Pakistan in 2004, Jayan Menon, a journalist with the Malayala Manorama daily, met Moideen Kutty, who was around 80 years old, at his house in the Federal B area of Karachi. He told Menon he had not been to India for over 10 years and wished he could make another trip soon since visa restrictions were reportedly eased during those years.
However, that trip never materialised as father time had caught up with him. There is no consensus on when he died, though. Some say in 2005, others in 2011.