For a country ranking 167 in the FIFA World Ranking and where cricket is synonymous with religion, a football match involving two local clubs featuring in the FIFA’s classic derby list is no mean achievement. The people of the Western world, who imagine India and football to be light years apart, should at least visit Salt Lake stadium once when the local giants crash and witness the 100,000 fans go berserk.
As East Bengal and Mohun Bagan clash yet again today, we at Soccersouls take a look back at the amazing history surrounding the two clubs. This would officially be the 302nd time that that the two clubs meet, a number exceeding even the most competitive derby in the world, the El Clasico. And anyone who is familiar with Indian football even to the slightest would know that this is one game which stands as a symbol of optimism to a football starved nation, a symbol of pride to showcase the world that when it comes to passion for the beautiful game Indians can totally going to give a run for money to their western counterparts.
While the set for the action is now Kolkata, the home of football in India, the history of the rivalry spreads much beyond it. Just like any other derby in the world, the duel has not originated from the football pitch. Rather it has quite an interesting past involving the undivided Bengal, one West Bengal which now is a part of India and the other East Bengal which is now Bangladesh. In mid-1920 Mohun Bagan fielded their team against Jora Bagan without their star Sailesh Bose, which enraged the then vice president Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri so much that he decided to form his own club, East Bengal. Now coincidentally Sailesh Chandra Chaudhuri hailed from the eastern parts of Bengal and thus the new club had its support base much from the immigrants from those parts. Therefore began the conflict between two cultures, a conflict that would see each group being subjected to the frequent caustic wits of the other group. Although this scenario has changed as the society has evolved in the past decades, but even today the “ghotis” flock to the stadium with their prawn to counter the “bangaals” and their hilsas.
Right from meeting in 1925 for the first time, the Kolkata derby has produced a lot of memorable matches, matches that have since attained the status of fairytales. Any true football fanatic Bengali can be seen either gloating or lamenting the 5-0 win of East Bengal over Mohun Bagan in the 1975 IFA Shield match. The result threw the Bagan fans in such a shock that one supporter Umakanto Palodhi committed suicide, mentioning this in his suicide note that in his next life he would return as a footballer to avenge the defeat of his dear club.
It was not until 2009 that Mohun Bagan scored five goals in a single match against East Bengal and they could finally bury their past ghosts. Their salvation came through Chidi Edeh who scored four times that night, the most by any player in a single match of the derby clash.
The past is not spotless though, resulting in occasions which the football fraternity would repent later. One such derby on 16th August, 1980, claimed the lives of sixteen supporters. When the referee showed the red card to Dilip Palit and Bidesh Basu at the Eden Gardens, a fatal pandemonium broke in the stands resulting in a stampede. Till this day it remains the darkest day in Indian football, the haunting memories to return whenever there seems to be some confusions going on in the stands.
One such close save was on 9th December 2012, when stones hurled from the stands hit Mohun Bagan midfielder Rahim Nabi and he suffered a fracture in between his jaw and right ear. The supporters were protesting to a decision by the referee to show Bagan striker Odafe a red card and what was supposed to be directed at the referee, hit Nabi. Mohun Bagan declined to field their team in the second half after this incident and all hell broke loose in the stands then. The police were forced to take violent means to pacify the crowds and at least forty people were injured from the clash.
Ex-Indian skipper Baichung Bhutia has scored the most number of goals in the derby clash as his tally stands at nineteen, thirteen for East Bengal and six for Bagan. East Bengal leads the winners tally with 113 while Mohun Bagan can claim the bragging rights for 85 such occasions.
But whatever be the score on Sunday between the sides, football lovers of the city will tune in lakhs everytime their sides take the field against one another and any young boy with a football in his foot will keep on dreaming to wear either the red and gold or the maroon and green jersey one day and approach toward the opponent’s goal amidst one lakh screaming crowd!