The Real Meaning of the Kolkata Derby
In a country ranked 130th in the FIFA rankings, Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal is a matter of life and death for the fans NO PROFIT, NO LOSS With a goalless draw, Mohun Bagan extend their unbeaten run to 11 games while East Bengal retain their top position
Two separate instances sum up the intensity best. A few years earlier, an ardent Mohun Bagan fan got up to read in the morning papers that the club, for want of funds, was thinking of not retaining Jose Ramirez Barretto, the mercurial Brazilian forward and the teams’ mainstay. Dropping everything at hand, the fan had reached the club tent by noon with his only real material asset — the legal papers of his one bedroom flat. He wanted to give it to the officials to sell the flat and retain Barretto. East Bengal, surely, can’t be too far behind. A South Kolkata couple has converted the entire drawing room of theirs into a miniature East Bengal ground. There’s a goalpost, a gallery, multiple club flags, a tent and also a canteen!
None of this should surprise a follower of Indian football who is well versed with what Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal really means. One of the world’s foremost sporting rivalries, it has and will stand the test of time.
Yes the clubs haven’t modernised with time, they have not been able to keep pace with commercialism and globalization and may soon be consumed by the ISL but fandom, it must be said, is an island which has staved off all interference. That is why every newspaper in the region had a dedicated 5-6 page section on the Kolkata Derby on Sunday morning. All talk in the paras of Kolkata on way to the bazaar was about Sony Norde and Wedson and about Sanjay Sen and Trevor James Morgan. Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal isn’t a mere football rivalry. It is a sentiment and a part of the Bengali ethos that is integral to the Bengali identity. It doesn’t matter who plays for either of the teams or who coaches them for all that is relevant is it is a contest between the Green and Maroon and the Red and Yellow. From the time Nepal Chakrabarty scored the first goal in the Kolkata Derby in 1925 to last evening, the Kolkata Derby has to be the most talked about event in Bengal on the day it is played. No wonder there were a thousand East Bengal fans who braved the morning chill to make it to the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Saturday morning to see their favourite players train. On most days, and Sunday was no exception, the game did not scale any great height. The tension and the intensity is such that the players are often The much hyped I-League football derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan at Kanchenjunga Stadium here ended in agoallessdrawwithbothteamsgoalkeepers returning heroes. On a day none of their ace marksmen managed to fire a goal, East Bengal’s TP Rehenesh was adjudged man-of-thematch with his resolute display under the bar in the first-half.
Mohun Bagan’s Debjit Majumder stole theshowinthelastperiodwithanequally dazzling display as in the end the crowd returned dejected without witnessing a goal from high-profile derby.
Mohun Bagan’s star Haitian forward Sony Norde, who was instrumental in their I-League triumph looked threatening in the first-half, but East Bengal gaffer TrevorMorgandidwelltokeephimatbay with their right back doing a fine job.
The Haitian was kept absolutely quiet as Morgan employed at least two men to hold him off to settle for a point and remained on top with 20 points from eight matches. The result meant Mohun Bagan remained at second place with 17 points from seven matches.
There was very little to choose between both the teams as Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen finally replaced Norde in the 86th minute. Playing in front of a boisterous home support, East Bengal were kept
consumed by the occasion and find it impossible to play their best. However, none of it matters. We, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal fans, will still watch. Wat c h it a h e a d o f a n E P L Ga me b e t we e n Ma n c h e s t e r Un i t e d a n d Liverpool. This rivalry is an extension of us and to see the two teams play weds us to our roots in Kolkata.
In 1975, and I hate to recount this as a Mohun Bagan fan, East Bengal won the Derby 5-0. In shame and sorrow, one Umakanta Palodhi committed suicide. He on toes with the likes of Norde and Darryl Duffy threatening their defence more than once in the first 45 minutes.
But it was the East Bengal goalkeeper Reheneshwhowasthestarofthefirst-half thwarting at least a couple of fine chances.
The scenarios turned in the last 45 minutes with East Bengal on the ascent and it was time for Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Majumder to sparkle under the bar.
In the 57th minute, Robin Singh headed on a long ball as Eduardo Ferreira could not clear the ball with Willis Plaza taking a fine possession from a close range but Majumder displayed some fine reflexes to help his team remain unscathed. Majumder made a second fine save in the 84th minute from a through ball. With 15 minutes left, both teams opted to play safe as the pace declined.
While Mohun Bagan kept on piling the pressure, East Bengal received one halfchance in a 23rd minute move when Plaza strayed away from a Singh pass from the right flank. The Trinidadian however had a poor finish as his angled shot was not only weak but aimed straight at Majumder.
Barring the solitary chance, the Mariners forward line kept on attacking and tempers were seen flying high at the stroke of half-time resulting in a yellow card for Ralte.
Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal isn’t a mere football rivalry. It is a sentiment and a part of the Bengali ethos that is integral to the Bengali identity
couldn’t bear the shock and hoped that he would be born again to avenge the defeat. We won’t ever know if that can happen. But what we do know is that Palodhi is not alone. There are millions like him making this rivalry between two teams of a country ranked 130th in the FIFA rankings no less than a Real Madrid versus Barcelona or a Boca Juniors versus River Plate. To go back to Bill Shankley, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you it’s much more serious than that.”