ISL 2020-21, SC East Bengal vs ATK Mohun Bagan: Old Foes Renew Rivalry in New Avatar of Kolkata Derby
ISL: SC East Bengal vs ATK Mohun Bagan
Since the inception of the Indian Super League, Kolkata was united in support of one team, forgetting their differences.
Atletico de Kolkata (then ATK) had promised to be the common ground for the ‘Big 2’, bandaging over the hurts of years past. That all changes this season with the introduction of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the ISL.
The 130-year old Mohun Bagan merged with three-time ISL champions ATK FC, thus creating the new entity - 'ATK Mohun Bagan'.
After much pressure from their fans, East Bengal, post celebrations of their centenary year, announced the acquisition of majority stake by Shree Cement.
Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) announced a bid for an 11th team and soon after SC East Bengal was revealed as the newest addition at the 11th hour.
ROOTS OF THE RIVALRY
So the new season of the Indian Super League will see the first Kolkata derby, one of the most heated and most watched clash, not in Indian football but the global game at large.
Oft compared to the ‘Old Firm Derby’ between Rangers and Celtic in Scotland, the Kolkata derby, also known as the ‘Boro Match’, or the ‘big match’ in Bengali - the roots of the rivalry lies in the nuanced cultural differences in the supporters of the either clubs.
On 15 August 1889, Mohun Bagan Sporting Club was born out of a want to provide the youth of Kolkata the chance to better their physical and athletic prowess as the intelligentsia of the aristocratic class meeting at Mohun Bagan Villa.
East Bengal’s inception, on the other hand, was born out of much more dire situation, akin to Everton’s birth out of Liverpool in England.
During a 1920 Cooch Behar Cup semi-final match, Jorabagan FC decided not to field their star player, who hailed from Dhaka (which is now the capital of Bangladesh), against Mohun Bagan. Jorabagan’s then vice-president Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri wanted his inclusion but his appeals were ignored. Spited, he decided to resign from his position at the club and formed ‘East Bengal’, owing to the founding members’ origins, on August 1 the same year.
Since the inception of the club, the administrators alleged an inherent bias from people in Kolkata towards Eastern Bengalis, currently most parts of which come under Bangladesh. The dialect was mocked and the people referred as ‘Bangals’ and in response they named the residents as ‘Ghoti’.
The feeling of unease between the two sets of people turned sour more due to large sections of people migrating during partition, which was based on religious identities. The influx of people from Eastern Bengal to Kolkata and the suburbs, intensified the growing divide between the two sets of people.
The migrants from the east in Kolkata after the partition years, found a common identity with what East Bengal stood for a club. Refugees from Bangladesh during their war for liberation from Pakistan in the 70s also added the yearning and banded the people together behind a similar identity.
The first time East Bengal and Mohun Bagan first met was on 28 May 1925 in the Calcutta Football League with the EB emerging by a solitary goal over MB.
Since that day, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have met a total of 370 times in all competitions, of which 127 have won by the team in ‘Red and Yellow’ with ‘Green and Maroon’ brigade emerging victorious in 111 games.
The first time the two great rivals met after boots were made mandatory was on 26th June 1954 in the Calcutta League. Mohun Bagan emerged winners against East Bengal 3-1.
When the first time the ‘Derby’ was held first outside Kolkata was on December 28 in 1957 at New Delhi in the semi-final of the Durand Cup, as MB and EB played out a goalless draw and in the replay, two days later, East Bengal won 3-2.
Controversy surrounded the East Bengal-Mohun Bagan clash at the IFA Shield Final in September of 1965. With Indo-Pak war as background, they played out a goalless draw. The replay was scheduled on 22nd September four days later but East Bengal requested for a further postponement it clashed with their AGM.
IFA rejected their appeal and Mohun Bagan were awarded the trophy as East Bengal were forced to give a walk over. Mohun Bagan officials refused to accept the trophy and insisted on a replay. The match was rescheduled on the following month as East Bengal won 1-0.
On the fateful day of September 30, 1975 East Bengal outclassed Mohun Bagan by a record margin of 5-0 in the IFA Shield Final. After the match, a Mohun Bagan fan died by suicide. The score line would go onto haunt Mohun Bagan fans as East Bengal supporters keep reminding their opponents on every Derby.
When Mohun Bagan and East Bengal meet on 6th August 1978 in the Calcutta League, a funny incident occurred. In the previous Derby, Mohun Bagan who had entered the field first had lost 2-0. Accordingly, keeping this in mind either team did not want to take the field first and the Derby was delayed. After 45 minutes from the scheduled kick off, both teams entered the field together. Mohun Bagan won 1-0.
But 16th August, 1980 was a tragic day in Indian football as 16 people died as fans clashed in the stands as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan fought it out on the field.
At the iconic Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, a record crowd of 125000 witnessed East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan 4-1 in the 1997 Federation Cup semi-final as Bhaichung Bhutia scored a hat-trick.
When the National Football League was rebranded as I-League, Mohun Bagan won the Kolkata derby 1-0 in 2007.
In 2009, Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal 5-3, as the ‘Green and Maroon’ brigade finally could answer back on chants of ’5 goals’. Chidi Edeh on that night, scored 4 goals, became the players with most goals in a Kolkata derby game.
A NEW DAWN
When it comes to facing off in a new tournament for the first time, it is East Bengal who have had the upper hand historically, though Mohun Bagan have won the most recent ones.
Earlier this year, in January, when the teams last meet, Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal 2-1 I the I-League. The reverse fixture was slated to be played on March 15, but had to be cancelled due the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Mohun Bagan instead claimed their second I-League crown in five seasons and that too with four games still left to play.
And now, they begin again.
Both teams will renew their rivalry in the Indian Super League, the passion of a hundred years and the emotions of thousands in love with the beautiful game.
That is un-rivalled.