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East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan: 5 Kolkata derbies one can't forget

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A Kolkata derby is as big as it gets in Indian football
Punit Tripathi

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)

Pranab Ganguly
Pranab Ganguly went in Bagan folklore after his performance in the IFA Shield final

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.

#2 East Bengal 5-0 Mohun Bagan (Final, IFA Shield, 1975)

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The 1975 IFA Shield Final will go down in history as one of the most memorable game in East Bengal history

Rivalries warrant paybacks and what better way than a thumping 5-0 win in football? East Bengal rocketed to the highest margin in a Kolkata derby in an IFA Shield final, in 1975. One of the most lop-sided matches in Indian football Finals’ history, this match saw East Bengal demolish their rivals in a way which would’ve even affected the mindsets of supporters, which it did, eventually.

East Bengal had won every trophy in India with remarkable ease in the 70’s and were undefeated in the derby from 1969 to 1975. Also, they were on the verge of setting the record for four consecutive Shield victories, and the stage was set for the cut-throat battle against their hardened rivals. If the last infamous derby had a share of keeper’s mistakes and winger’s genius, this one watermarked itself with goalkeeping errors by Bhaskar Ganguly.

The match began is swashbuckling fashion, with Surajit Sengupta opening the floodgates only after five minutes of game-play. An orthodox winger who loved to drop balls into the box for strikers, Surajit had been advised by Coach P.K. Banerjee to use his lightning speed to score goals, which he did in style. 6 minutes later, Shyam Thapa missed a penalty, but more was in store.

In the 24th minute, Thapa scored from Subhas Bhowmick’s cross, which was poorly spilled by Ganguly. The best goal of the match was scored by Ranjit Mukherjee in the 38th minute. After a swift interchange of passes between Sengupta, Thapa, and Bhowmick; Mukherjee outsmarted Bagan’s stopper Nimai Goswami and took an unstoppable shot to make it 3-0.

After the break, East Bengal didn’t look to be in a mood to stop. Bagan goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly looked slightly intimidated by the event and that flashed in his performance. Ganguly spilled a collectable drive from Surajit Sengupta, which was tapped in by Shyam Thapa in the 51st minute to make in 4-0. Prashanta Mitra replaced the custodian, but couldn’t prevent Subhankar Sanyal from making it 5-0 in the 84th minute. Record of Shield wins, record of highest winning derby margin and EB fans couldn’t have felt better.

On the other hand, it was heavy-bearing for the Mohun Bagan supporters. The club was mobbed by thousands, trees were set on fire, players were afraid to go out. Star footballers like Subrata Bhattacharya and Prasun Banerjee escaped the club house and spent the night in a boat on Ganges.

Such was the ignominy of this defeat that Mohun Bagan supporter Umakanta Paladhi committed suicide after the match. In his suicide note, he wrote that he would exact revenge as a Bagan player in his next birth. These incidents showed the passion and love the city and its people have for their endearing clubs.

#3 East Bengal 4-1 Mohun Bagan (Semi-Final, Federation Cup, 1997)

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Rivalries and their build-ups can sometimes go beyond the players on the field, and this match was all about that. If you’re eagerly waiting for Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho meet at the Manchester derby on 10th September, you’ll know exactly how the fans were feeling then.

Larger-than-life managers, who had turned into impeccable football tacticians, were fighting it out in this match. P.K. Banerjee and Amal Dutta, the most successful Indian gaffers in the history of the game, were to clash in this match, which would see a brilliant tactical battle.

Like every other manager, these two had their distinctive working styles. While P. K. always worked with stars and established footballers, Amal Dutta was known to make giant-killing teams with young and unproven talents. Dutta had already been successful with his 4-2-4, and Cheema Okorie had wreaked havoc in Bagan’s last victory against Churchill Brothers, a dominating 6-0. Thus, the stage was set for a thrilling semi-final. There was something special brewing in the fans too, which they showed by numbers.

131,000! And this number stills stands as an Asian record for the maximum number of spectators in a one-off sporting event! Amal Dutta was famous for getting under the skin of the opposition and called Bhaichung as ‘Chung Chung’ and Samuel Omollo as ‘Omelet’. PK, who worked with established stars, rubbed this on the ego of his players, and made sure they went for the kill.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man! Arguably the best footballer India has ever produced, Bhaichung Bhutia proved just that. Nazimul Haque scored the first goal for East Bengal with a brilliant volley in the first half. After the restart, Bhaichung was just unstoppable. Amal Dutta’s tactics of all-out attack backfired and Baichung fooled defenders with an inspired display in front of the goal, scoring a brilliant hat-trick. Cheema scored a consolation for Mohun Bagan, but Bhaichung had already written himself in the history books, becoming the first ever player to score a hat-trick in this highly-followed derby.

The tactics faltered as the high-line defence of Mohun Bagan was caught napping on the through-balls for Bhaichung, who scored two goals in the last 20 minutes, killing off the game. Curiously, after this brilliant victory, East Bengal did not lift the Fed Cup that season, Salgaocar defeating them 2-1 in the final.

#4 Mohun Bagan 4-3 East Bengal (Kolkata Football League, 2007)

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There are coaches who create hype, and then there’s just one coach who does that. Franz Beckenbauer is to Bayern Munich what Subrata Bhattacharya was to Mohun Bagan. Mind the word, was! This match is well remembered for a man, known throughout the world for his footballing prowess, changing sides to sit on an East Bengal bench. Worse, that happened as a coach.

Subrata Bhattacharya was fierce as a defender but was even fiercer as a Mohun Bagan faithful. The Indian International defender was a club legend and was one of the Green-and-Maroon loyalists. You could sense the turbulence in the football fraternity when he agreed to manage East Bengal, the arch-rivals, in 2007. 10 years after that Fed Cup semi-final, another man in the dugout was the centre of attraction of millions. Was he a smiling man at the end? The scoreline suggests otherwise.

With a defensive mindset, East Bengal began the match trying to disrupt the Mohun Bagan midfield and attack with a flurry of fouls and poor tackles. Subrata had assigned Madhab Das, a centre-back, to mark Jose Ramirez Barreto, one of the best foreign players India ever had. With the guile and ability of a Brazilian, Jose proved too good for Madhab and befooled the East Bengal’s defence throughout the match. Barreto dropped deep into the Bagan’s midfield to create a gaping hole in the East Bengal’s defence.

Lalampuiya, a TFA graduate with remarkable talent, began the scoring with a wonderful solo run. Madhab, frustrated by Barreto’s difficult man-marking, tripped him in the box in the 35th minute and the Brazilian blasted the nets comfortably. Shanmugam Venkatesh, probably Mohun Bagan’s best player in the first half, scored with a brilliant angular shot just before the stroke of half-time, to make in 3-0. While the teams walked down the tunnel, East Bengal were staring at a reversal of the 5-0 victory of IFA Shield while Mohun Bagan were licking their tongues.

Out of the tunnel for the second half, East Bengal looked a team who had been motivated and were in for a fight. Subrata Bhattacharya was always known to be a player with a never-say-die attitude and that rubbed onto his team. Alvito D’Cunha started a comeback of sorts, scoring in the first minute of the second half to make it 3-1. Venkatesh scored his second to re-assign a three-goal cushion to Mohun Bagan, but that was short-lived. Alvito scored with a brilliant drop shot on the hour mark to make it 4-2, and East Bengal players believed the game was on.

On 67 minutes, Brazilian striker Edmilson converted from the spot to make it 4-3, and game was truly on. Both teams attacked in pursuit of victory, but no goals were scored. East Bengal were disheartened as a spirited comeback fell short and Mohun Bagan fluffed their chances to put five past the Red and Gold for the first time in history. The excitement was evident, the crowd went berserk and the match was remembered for its good football and brilliant fight-back from East Bengal.

#5 Mohun Bagan 5-3 East Bengal (I-League, 2009)

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Stories of revenge are always sweet, when it comes after 3 decades, it is sweeter. If Bhaichung had been the derby hero in 1997, this time, it was a foreigner, Edeh Chidi. Chidi had been on the side of the Mariners, in a match which saw Mohun Bagan pumping in 5 past the East Bengal defence for the first time in history. The Salt Lake stadium was packed to a hilt and this got to the nerves of many players, including goalkeepers Shilton Paul and Abhra Mondal.

Reminiscent of Bhaskar Ganguly’s errors in 1975, Shilton was the first to let his MB defence down. Paul completely missed the flight of an inviting corner, allowing Nirmal Singh to draw first blood. The lead didn’t last long, with Chidi coming into his own in the 18th minute.

The Nigerian striker brushed aside Govin Singh to make the scores level. You could feel the temperatures rise in the arena and all eyes were fixed on the well-built striker. Four minutes after equalizing, Chidi assisted for midfielder Manish Mathani to score with a long-ranger. Chidi scored with a brilliant goal from a Barreto cross, making it 3-1 in the 33rd minute.

Shilton Paul, who didn’t have much to do after his first disaster, joined the party. Two poor errors ensured veteran striker Yusuf Yakubu scoring two goals, bringing the scoreline to 3-3. Never had the audiences seen a similar scoreline at half-time in a Kolkata derby match.

Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa played out his cards well in the second half. He knew his team could score many, and he galvanized the defence by replacing Shilton Paul with Sangram Mukherjee. With tonnes of experience, Mukherjee brought the much-needed calmness to the backline of MB defence.

With a positive change in the defence part, Mohun Bagan suffered a jolt in the attack. Talismanic forward Jose Ramirez Barreto had to leave the field with an injury, teary-eyed. Supporters thought it would become a dull affair post this, but Barreto’s strike partner had other plans.

In the first minute of 2nd half, Snehashish Chakraborty whipped in a cross into the box. James Singh rose the highest to get it into the way of Chidi, who blasted home to complete his hat-trick and re-wrote history books. Chidi became the first foreigner to score a hat-trick in a Kolkata derby.

The story wasn’t to end at this. Chidi still had an appetite for more, and he soon proved that. A few minutes later, Chidi headed in a Marcos Perreira free-kick to make it 5-3 and became the first player ever to score four goals in a derby between these two teams. Records were broken throughout the match, and the Green and Maroon brigade still feel happy about the match.

Fun Fact: Subhash Bhowmick, who was coaching East Bengal in this match, was one of the chief architects of the infamous victory in 1975. Thus, the great man had to bear the ignominy of defeat at the hands of his previous club.

NOTE: In 2012, a match between these two sides ended after the first half. Star Striker and Mohun Bagan’s main hope, Odafa Okolie, was red-carded after a goal from Harmanjot Singh Khabra had scored with a header to give East Bengal a slender 1-0 lead. Mohun Bagan was hit with a ban of two years from I-League, which was later reverted with a fine. This match saw a lot of drama, field mishaps and police could not control a fighting crowd.

Erstwhile Mohun Bagan player Syed Rahim Nabi got poorly injured after being hit by something thrown from the crowd. The match was abandoned by the AIFF. Some may agree to remember this match for its histrionics, but it would seldom catch your breath if you discuss football. So, we did not include it in this list.

Edited by Staff Editor

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