Derby delirium! An experience like no other
Ask the most ardent aficionado about the world’s greatest footballing rivalries, and they immediately turn their heads to the traditional hotbeds of Europe and South America. A handful will look east to Asia; even fewer to India. But make them experience a Kolkata derby, and you can be sure that the next derby will feature on their must-see list. You may be a football cognoscenti of the highest order, but if you’ve not experienced a Kolkata derby, you’ve not felt emotions. If you’ve not witnessed this derby, you’ve not witnessed passion!
Standing in the queue an hour before kick-off you don’t feel like just another football fan going to see just another football match. You feel like a soldier going to war; the colours of your allegiance etched deep into your chest with only one thought on your mind – “Victory at all costs!” And what a setting for the biggest match in Indian football – the Yuvabharati Krirangan! It might not be the state-of-the-art stadium our European friends are used to watching matches in, but the sheer expanse of the Salt Lake Stadium makes it a worthy venue for any derby.
As the gates give way, a swarm of supporters holding their ticket aloft almost glide into the stadium premises. Everyone seems to know exactly where to go. If you’re standing in the back of the line, you can feel the buzz emanating from the stadium grow louder and you start shivering in anticipation. This is one storm that has no lull preceding it. You can feel the storm coming for hours, but you don’t want to run from it; you want to be right in its midst! Even seconds before kick-off, you get the feeling that more spectators are making their way to the stadium, and somehow defying all laws of space they find a place to sit as well!
Standing in the stands moments before kick-off, you feel surrounded by thousands of managers of your team. Almost everyone’s discussing about the team-sheet and tactics. They’re all experts on the day. There are a few, fanatics if you may, who don’t bother with all the mental exercise. They’re busy crying themselves hoarse, shouting out chants that are impossible to publish on a public page! Oh yes, you’re sure to learn new words on derby day!
Out come the substitutes, greeted by a deafening roar. What a bummer it must be for them to not start a derby. And then, moments later, the starters step-out of the tunnel. The roof of the stadium is raised. A hundred thousand delirious fans cry out in unison, and the very foundation of the stadium is rocked by the rumbling. One can only imagine how the players feel on the pitch at this moment. The derby is not a stage for the faint-hearted. It’s one for the modern-day Spartans, and its meant to be played upholding Spartan principles – “Give them nothing, take from them everything!”
As the players stand in line before kick-off, all they can see around them is a sea of screaming heads, distinctly divided in to 2 sections by the huge banners and flags hanging from the stands. They turn around and wave, and every single person in the stand acknowledges the gesture. The players know that anything less than a 110 percent on the pitch will be deemed a criminal offence. The game kicks off and the hundred thousand or more inside the stadium transcend to a different world. For the 90 minutes that follow, nothing that happens off the pitch matters. All they want to do is to cheer every moment of brilliance, and jeer every blunder. All they want is victory! The referee must have the toughest time of all, knowing every decision is a potential life-threat. Its not easy when 50,000 angry fans disagree with you!
The final whistle is heralded by mad scenes on one half of the stands, while a stunned silence ensues across the other half. For the victors, there is no sweeter feeling. The war has been won, and till the next derby they have earned their bragging rights. Their heroes on the pitch have done them proud, and the celebratory torches are lit to make the stands a sight to behold and cherish for a lifetime. For the fans of the defeated, it feels like the sky has fallen on their heads. The losing team knows that there’s a better chance of getting away with murder than receiving forgiveness for a derby defeat!
The Kolkata derby comes with a plethora of emotions, and its impossible to be a resident of the city and not ride the wave. The derby stands for much more than league positions or cup progress. The derby is much more than a football match. It’s impossible to describe in words what this derby stands for. But once you’ve experienced this spectacle, you realize what the great Bill Shankly really meant when he said – “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it is much, much more important than that!”