Why did Indian football players play the 1948 Olympics without shoes?

Did you know India could have defeated France if only we had played with football boots?

In the 1948 Olympics, we lost the game by the thinnest of margins, and it came down to 2 missed penalties which swung the tie in France’s favor.

Now there are a lot of ‘What If’s’ and conspiracies around the Barefoot era of Indian football but let’s focus on the ‘Why’ for today.

Keep reading as we uncover the reason behind the Indian team Playing barefoot at the 1948 Olympics.

Indian Football from barefoot to boots

The 1940s and 1950s were a golden period for Indian football. There were many incredibly talented players during this time.

Legends like Ahmed Khan, S. Raman, M.A. Sattar, and S. Mewalal were famous players from that era. They could dribble the ball incredibly well and had great vision on the field. These skills helped them dominate football in the entire continent.

Most of the players from the 1940s and 1950s learned to play football while barefoot. For some players, this was because they came from very poor families who could not afford boots. Yet, many other players chose to play barefoot on purpose.

These players believed that playing without shoes gave them better control of the ball. They felt closer to the ball and could perform skills and tricks more easily without shoes on. Playing barefoot was seen as better for their game.

Even at the club level in major Indian cities like Kolkata, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, it was very common to see barefoot footballers. Wearing boots was something completely new and strange to the players.

The local leagues and fields had hard, rough surfaces. But, the players were comfortable playing and practicing their dribbling skills while completely barefoot on these fields. Wearing shoes was not a normal thing for them.

The Bare Truth of the 1948 Olympics

When the Indian football team played in the 1948 London Olympics, their approach was very unusual.

Only one player, Taj Mohammed the right-back, wore boots. The entire rest of the Indian team played without wearing any boots at all!

It was a cold, rainy day and the Wembley stadium pitch was very slippery. Even in these difficult conditions, the Indian players produced an amazing performance. They controlled the ball exceptionally well, dribbled brilliantly, ran at incredible speed, and used deceptive body movements to fool defenders.

The French players could not understand what was happening. The very skillful and quick-footed Indian players kept going past them with their dribbling. The Indians created many scoring chances.

However, India missed two penalty kicks during the game. Sailen Manna and Mahabir Prasad slipped while taking their penalties due to not having enough grip without boots.

In the end, the 1-2 score did not show how well India really played against the stronger French team.

We will never know what could have happened if the Indians wore proper boots that day. Maybe having boots with better grip would have made the difference between losing 1-2 and an incredible win? This memorable match still gets talked about in Indian football stories.

When did the Indian football team start wearing boots?

Unfortunately, the fun of playing football barefoot did not last forever for the Indian team. The international football organization FIFA did not agree with India’s relaxed attitude of playing without boots.

FIFA had strict rules that did not allow barefoot playing in the World Cup tournament. Because of this rule, India made the very controversial decision to withdraw from the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

India withdrew from the World Cup mostly because of money issues and caring more about the Olympics than the FIFA World Cup at that time.

The romantic style of Indian barefoot football finally came to an end at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. On a cold, rainy day in Finland, the playing field became very muddy and slippery.

Without proper footwear, the Indian players struggled to get good traction and balance on the slick surface. They were badly beaten 1-10 by the powerful Yugoslavian team in an embarrassing loss.

It was now time for a change. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) made a new rule that made wearing boots mandatory for all players. The national team coach S.A. Rahim only selected players who agreed to wear boots.

While some old-fashioned fans were sad to see the end of barefoot football, this marked a new modern era for Indian football. The team could no longer use their romantic playing style from the past.


Did the Indian football team have shoes during the 1948 Olympics?

Yes, the Indian football team had shoes during the 1948 Olympics. However, the majority of players opted to play barefoot as they were more used to playing without shoes.

Did Indian football team play barefoot due to a lack of shoes or affordability issues?

No, the decision to play barefoot was not due to a lack of shoes or affordability issues. Players had shoes available but chose not to wear them because they preferred playing without shoes.

Was the Indian football team banned from the 1950 FIFA World Cup for playing barefoot?

India did not get banned from the 1950 World Cup for playing without shoes. They withdrew because they had money problems and prioritized the Olympics over the World Cup back then.


The Indian barefoot football players had a very special journey. As children, they learned the game on dusty fields called maidans. Eventually, their skills took them all the way to the famous Wembley stadium in London.

These “barefoot warriors” became legends in the history of football. Their unstoppable spirit and joyful, carefree way of playing was incredibly refreshing. At that time, most teams played in an overly rigid, coached style. The Indians’ approach was the opposite.

Though playing without shoes could not last forever as football became more professional, the impact lasted. The incredible dribbling abilities and flair of the barefoot players influenced many future generations.

What do you think?

Written by Mith Panchal

Welcome to my corner of the internet, where my love for football meets the art of storytelling. I'm Mith Panchal,I make memes and write blogs here at tacklefrombehind. Most importantly I’m a crazy football addict just like you guys.

My journey in Football started in 2012 because I liked how Cristiano Ronaldo played in FIFA so out of curiosity I watched a few games of Real Madrid and Cristiano and since that day I've been a proud Madridista.

I think that every football game, every football team, and every player has a story to tell. I like to explore those stories and share the best of them with you guys through these blogs.

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