Football derbies have their own stories, stuffs made of dreams. Full of histrionics, intensity and passion, derbies are every player’ delight and fans’ dreams. FIFA has a list of 100 such classic derbies, which are followed and treasured throughout the world. On the international rankings, India has never been able to breach the Top-100 mark, but a rivalry in Indian football has always been under FIFA’s radar: The Kolkata Derby, which features in the classic derby list.
Liverpool great Bill Shankly has famously said, ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.' A look at Kolkata and you know what he’s talking about. The warmth, the energy and the vibes of the city gets to you—just like its football. India’s most football-loving city has its very own fairytale, with two protagonists in it.
Known as the ‘Baro’ match in Kolkata, perennial rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, India’s two most successful clubs play this derby every year at least thrice. With a rivalry dating over 100 years, the two Maidan-based clubs are a pair made in heaven. East Bengal was formed after a controversy which supported Mohun Bagan, and thus, this rivalry had begun even before both the clubs came into existence.
After the partition of Bengal, the immigrants from Bangladesh were called ‘Bangals’ while the natives were called ‘Ghotis’ meaning Mariners. The founders of East Bengal were from Eastern Bengal (now in Bangladesh), and thus, the Bangals followed the club made by their regional forefathers. This rivalry even spices up the culinary dishes of Bengal. It is rumored that sales of Chingri (Prawns) increases on the victories of Mohun Bagan and Ilish (Hilsa fish) becomes the order of the day after an East Bengal victory.
This derby, here in Bengal, is a ritual. Bengali’s love their share of bandhs and strikes, but this match brings out the real passion in the teams as well as their supporters. The day is marked on calendars, tickets are bought in bulks and this is probably the only match in Indian football which has never seen a vacant seat. A wholesome squad of Kolkata Police is usually deputed to keep the situation calm, giving a slight hint to the heated tempers and war-like scenario amongst the supporters.
These teams have played out 345 matches till date, East Bengal winning 125, Mohun Bagan winning 107 and 113 games resulting in a draw. We take a look at the five most exciting, enthralling and memorable Kolkata Derbies till date:
#1 Mohun Bagan 3-1 East Bengal (Final, IFA Shield 1969)
Indian football was calmly growing after Independence and had its share of history already. But come 1969, the two Kolkata heavyweights were in the final of the IFA Shield, regarded as one of the most alluring trophies in Indian football. With heavy fan-bases, derbies can give heroes as well as villains. Ask Pranab Ganguly for the first and Sudhir Karmakar and Peter Thangaraj for the second.
This was the decade which Mohun Bagan had ruled and East Bengal fans had come to see a last shot at glory by their demigods, which was not to be eventually. Tactically, this match went into the history books of Indian football as Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal in all departments of the game, 3-1. Under the young yet eccentric Amal Dutta, Mohun Bagan played 4-2-4, with overlapping wing-backs as East Bengal was tactically defeated.
If tactics were one reason, left out Pranab Ganguly’s performance was another. Pranab was blessed with silky touches and was a brilliant dribbler of the ball. Sudhir Karmakar, who went on to become India’s one of the greatest defenders ever, was relatively new then and was no match for Ganguly’s exceptional ball control and wizardly prowess.
Ganguly scored two brilliant goals for Mohun Bagan with Sukalyan Ghosh Dastidar scoring the other. The defence of the Green-and-Maroons, led by Syed Nayeemuddin, held their forte bravely, ensuring a win. Viewers say, Peter, who was under the goal for East Bengal, had one of his rare, forgettable days.
Amal Dutta, who went on to become one of India’s finest football coaches, was revered as a hero after the victory. Dutta became a household name after this infamous victory over their bitter rivals. The scoreline didn’t matter, the way the victory came did. Out-playing your enemies in the minds is a feeling to be savored, and Mohun Bagan fans did just that. Sadly, Pranab’s career was blighted with several injuries and he could never reach his full potential here-after.