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Historical and Sociological importance will remain with Kolkata Derby | The Rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is an integral part of Bengali Culture

Football, this magical word is enough to ignite passion, enthusiasm and happiness in million hearts all across the globe. This beautiful game has brought joy, cheer and laughter in million lives, has united communities, created identities and molded societies. But sometimes this game has become the central point of bitter rivalry, conflict and enmity. We can see a classic example of this in our own city of joy, between two great clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

Football was introduced to Calcutta by the British in the last part of 19th Century. In 1872 Calcutta club was established but it was mostly for the elite class of English society. To counter this Trades club was formed by two British tradesmen Towfett and Love in 1874 which was later named Dalhousie club and through their effort The IFA and the prestigious IFA shield came into existence.

Though in the beginning the game was restricted to the Europeans slowly the Indians started taking interest in to it and soon football started becoming popular among the locals. The political scenario was changing in the city where the cry for independence was getting louder and to match that the Bengalees started challenging the ‘Gora’s on the football ground also. This was symbolized by the Epic victory of Mohun Bagan In 1911 IFA shield.

The IFA shield and the Calcutta league was largely restricted to the British Clubs with only one Indian club allowed to play in the 1st Division of the league and one in the shield. The triumph of Mohun Bagan in the shield final defeating the East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 had a huge impact on the Bengali society. Football became a part of Bengali culture. The defeat of the seemingly invincible British to eleven bare footed Bengalis ignited a new enthusiasm in the movement for freedom.

After that epic moment more Indian teams started to come into prominence. The year 1920 saw the emergence of another great force in Indian football, East Bengal Club. The reason behind the formation of this club was itself an indication for the future .In the late 19th century a good number of students used to come to Calcutta for study purposes from the eastern parts of Bengal. Being unsophisticated and simple minded they were objects of ridicule and pranks for the locals who jokingly called them “Bangals”. The Bengali dictionary defines the word Bangal as “idiot” or “stupid”. To counter this the East Bengalis named the locals “Ghoti”s to indicate their over-dependence on a metal pot. These mutual prejudice, mistrust and cultural conflict were reflected in every sphere of society including football.

Sailesh Bose, a football player and games teacher in a Calcutta College resigned from his job in protest of the discrimination against him due to his East Bengali origins .He found a new job by the help of Suresh Choudhury a rich businessman from east and in return was asked to play for newly formed Jorabagan Club where Mr Choudhury was the Vice-president. In spite of being a very good half-back Bose was subjected to humiliation and ridicule by some of the members of the club. The situation got worse when Jorabagan lost to Mohun Bagan in Cooch Behar Cup final. Sailesh Bose and another “Bangal” Nasha Sen were blamed for the loss along with Mr Chodhury who supported their inclusion in the team. Ultimately Mr Choudhury and the two players severed all connections with Jorabagan club and with the help of Raja Manmatha Nath Choudhury, Maharaja of Santosh, and some other wealthy businessmen formed a new club. The club was named East Bengal Club.

The Newborn club started its long journey slowly struggling to get promotion to the 1st division and even after they qualified for the 1st division they were not allowed to play as there were two Indian clubs already in the 1st division, Mohun Bagan and Aryans. East Bengal protested against this discrimination and ultimately became victorious to gain a place despite facing oppositions from their Indian counterparts.
The suppressed resentment of the Bangals against the insult and discrimination got a vent in the 1st meeting of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in 1925 which East Bengal won by 1-0 margin to everybody’s surprise. The lone goal was scored by N. Chackrabarty. Mohun Bagan took revenge in return leg thus starting the famous rivalry which will later become a part of Bengali culture.

In that era though the prominent football clubs were in Calcutta many good players used to come from the east. Even the famous 1911 Mohun Bagan team had no less than seven “Bangal”s in their rank. With the slow withdrawal of theBritish army the English clubs in Kolkata lost their strength and the void was filled by the Indian clubs. Most notable among them were Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting. East Bengal slowly emerged as the third force two join them. In contrast to the conflict between Mohammedan Sporting and the other ‘Hindu’ clubs which often resulted in communal violence East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were on fairly good terms. Barring occasional clashes the rivalry between the two clubs was more or less friendly and they used to look at each-other as siblings... After the 1942 league win for East Bengal Mohun Bagan even hosted a tea party in their honour. This friendly atmosphere started changing after independence.

Bengal was partitioned to create East Pakistan from East Bengal and the western part of Bengal became known as West Bengal. The partition caused one of the greatest population migration in history as West Bengal was flooded with refugees coming from East Pakistan .Almost one million people arrived by 1950 and this huge population load became an enormous social problem. The refugees were forced to sleep in the railway stations, in the streets and in make-shift refugee camps. The increasing population, the consequent pressure on space and the gradually deteriorating economic condition of the middle class led to a paranoiac psyche. The question of ‘original’ and ‘foreign’ started to arise and prejudice and mistrust among the two communities grew. Many of refugees were from middle or upper class families with education and expertise but their poverty overshadowed everything else .Despite their ethnic similarity to West Bengalis –in language, religion and ideas minute differences in culture were exaggerated and the newcomers were accepted with suspicion and resentment .Like all migrants East Bengalis created a community for themselves on the basis of shared experience of loss and shared memories of ‘Desh’.

The competition on the football field started to take greater meaning as the new comers adopted the East Bengal club as their symbol of identity and origin in an attempt to escape reality. The emigrants tried to perpetuate the memory of a lost homeland by following the fortunes of a club with the same name. East Bengal club became the source of their hope, aspirations and pride. Those people who have lost their land, assets and dignity started identifying themselves with East Bengal club and their existence became one with the club. If the club won they felt that they have won something. The defeat of the club was their defeat. To counter this increase in the number of East Bengal Fans - and their aggression a change in the outlook took place among Calcutta’s ‘original’ sons whereby Mohun Bagan became the symbol of their existence and the win or lose in the football ground became the yard-stick of supremacy over each other.

This change became evident in the 1947 IFA shield final when the match was abandoned due to violence between the two groups of rival supporters. The rivalry intensified day by day. Social and political unrest, war, migration and a general sense of insecurity was prevalent and this was expressed football grounds. Violent clashes occurred during vital matches and tremendous tension surrounded the derbies between the two clubs. The things took a turn for the worst in 16th August 1980.During a Calcutta Derby a scuffle between two opponent players Dilip Palit and Bidesh Bose spread into the galleries like fire and the ensuing violence claimed the life of sixteen young men .The reasons for that tragedy were several, faulty administration, lack of safety, police inaction but the root cause was the conflict between two regional groups.

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This conflict had its lighter side also. Whenever East Bengal had won a derby the price of Hilsha used to go sky-high as it was the favorite way of celebration for a “Bangal”. On the other hand Mohun Bagan fans used to buy “Chingdi” or Lobsters to celebrate a victory. To mock the East Bengalees Mohun Bagan fans used to hang rotten hilsha in public places in case of an East Bengal defeat and East Bengalees returned the courtesy with rotten Chingdi. Even in late 80’s not all the families could afford a T.V and the main source of information were radio and news papers. On the day of a derby the fight used to start with the match-preview in the paper and continued throughout the day. After the start of the match it was a very common scene to find a gathering of people in front of a tea-stall which was blessed with a radio fighting and mocking each-other. Sometimes the verbal fight came down to fists and the elders from both the groups had to intervene to control the juniors. The excellent radio commentary were an added attraction . The ‘Dolbodol’ or Transfer seasons added spice to this. People used to wait eagerly for the newspaper to get the news of who captured whom. Some of the incidences of player-capturing could even exceed the suspense of ‘Bond Movies’. This rivalry has attracted novelists and film-makers also. The famous scene in the movie “Ora Thake Odhare” where a Ghoti and a Bangal family share a radio to listen to a derby commentary produces a perfect picture of the situation.

This scenario started changing with the betterment of the living standard of the middle-class .The previous struggle and unrest gave way to a more leisurely and comfortable lifestyle. With the intermixing of the two opposing groups the cultural differences faded away. The newer generations were more ambivalent and accommodative. The division based on regionalism lost it’s relevance with intergroup marriages. With the introduction of cable T.V the international football made a direct entry in the living room of Bengalis. The famous clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid created a new generation of soccer-lovers who preferred to choose their heroes from the international arena. The rise of cricket after 1983 world cup slowly started challenging the popularity of football.The effect of these changes has been an apparent softening of previous hard-core fanaticism.

The Rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is an integral part of Bengali Culture.With the passage of time the intensity has somehow faded away; the awareness of the poor quality of the game in India in comparison to international standards has changed the general outlook. After the UB group started sponsoring the two clubs there was shade of skepticism that the traditional rivalry will fade away. But the potency of this rivalry is still there. It still enkindles the passion of Bengalis when the two clubs take on each other in a battle of supremacy. A Derby can still attract larger crowds than any other competition. The famous ‘Diamond Match’ of 1997 saw a gathering of 130,000 fans in the Salt Lake Stadium.

Occasional violence still occurs indicating the high emotional content of the game. It still continues to dominate the Bengali mind and this rivalry will exist as long as Bengali race exists. This love and passion for this beautiful game defines Bengal and it will remain so for ages to come.


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