Football was introduced to India in the mid-nineteenth century by the British. To give India a taste of football tournaments, Durand Mortimer, the foreign secretary of India introduced the Durand Cup in the year 1888. Five years down the line, the IFA Shield was introduced. Calcutta turned out to be the hub for football in India. However, the clubs who rose to prominence then were mainly British clubs comprising players from the army or their elite officials.
Then came into existence one of the first clubs of Bengal, Mohun Bagan. On 15th of August, 1889, the club was introduced to the game by three aristocratic families of Bengal, and Bagan’s first match was against Eden Hindu Hostel. Their first participation in tournaments was in the year 1893, where they locked horns with local opposition, but with little success.
The man who, for the first time initiated a paradigm shift in the body language and the verve in the players was Subedar Major Sailen Bose. Bose’s army background meant that he instilled a sense of discipline into every player and trained them in the most spartan way possible to bolster their abilities and to enhance their resilience. This man changed the face of Mohun Bagan, and The Mariners’ long and fantastic legacy began.
We pick the five most glorious moments in the illustrious history of the club.
#1 IFA Shield triumph in the year 1911
The IFA Shield was founded in 1893, and for the initial three seasons, no native clubs were allowed to participate. Mohun Bagan was allowed to play for the first time in the year 1909.
Despite a victory against YMCA in the first round, Bagan were knocked out in their first participation after they were thumped by Gordon Highlanders, who eventually went on to become the champions of the tournament.
The next year failed to beget any different result for The Mariners. Mohun Bagan did drub St. Xavier in the first round but was again trounced by Rifle Brigade in the second round. After unrelenting defeats in the IFA Shield, the management decided to shoulder Shibdas Bhaduri with the responsibility of forming a good squad for the next edition.
Shibdas Bhaduri, after a stringent selection process, came up with a team that comprised the likes of Hiralal Mukherjee, Srishchandra Sarkar, and Rajendranath Sengupta.
Mohun Bagan started their IFA Shield campaign against St. Xavier on 10th of July. Riding on a brace from Bijoydas Bhaduri and a neat strike from Abhilash Ghosh, Bagan made it to the next round thumping Xavier's comprehensively.
The next game for Bagan was against Calcutta Rangers Club at Customs Ground. Given their jinx in the second round, Bagan were hell-bent to prove a point. To add to their woes, the damp conditions after a heavy downpour made things a lot more difficult.
A brace from Sibdas Bhaduri helped Bagan to sail through to the next round thereby shattering the second round jinx. Mohun Bagan was pitted against Rifle Brigades in the next round, who had ousted Bagan in the previous edition of the tournament. Bijoydas Bhaduri, who was quite an architect in paving Bagan’s way to the quarter-finals so far, was affected by the demise of his close friend before the match.
However, he exhibited nerves of steel and scored the solitary goal of the match, dodging past three defenders with ease and took Bagan to the semis for the first time in the IFA Shield in three years of their participation.
Mohun Bagan was up against the mighty Middlesex Regiment in the semi-finals. Both the teams matched each other blow for blow. Middlesex Regiment drew first blood through their skipper, Sgt. Piggot. Kanu Roy restored parity for Bagan after he unleashed a pile-driver from a long range that blasted into the net.
The replay was scheduled a day later in damp conditions. The match was plagued with some unfortunate incidents when Middlesex skipper, Sgt. Piggot had to be taken off the field after sustaining a crucial blow in his eye. After Sgt. Piggot’s injury, Mohun Bagan wreaked havoc to the Middlesex rearguard, netting 3 valuable goals to polish off the rout and advance to the finals, which was the maiden feat by any Indian club then.
The final, on 29th of July, saw Bagan pitted against East Yorkshire Regiment, who were undoubtedly one of the best outfits of that time.
Much to the disappointment of the crowds, who were cheering the home team vociferously, Jackson blasted a free-kick in the net drawing first blood for East Yorkshire Regiment. Mohun Bagan were hell-bent to not relinquish to their British counterparts.
The half-time break proved to give the team a kick start as a transformed Bagan put on a display. With 10 minutes to go, Shibdas Bhaduri scored a stunner after taking the British rearguard by storm with some fancy footwork. With a couple of minutes to the final whistle, Abhilash Ghosh razed the Yorkshire defence to score the winner.
This victory of Bagan was amplified because of its sting in national importance. In an era of political bedlam, Mohun Bagan stamped their authority with an important victory over the British team.
#2 Golden era of Mohun Bagan
The decade between 1960 and 1970 is deemed as the best era of Mohun Bagan. The Bengal club began the decade on a very high note as they went on to win the Calcutta League, IFA Shield and Durand Cup in 1960.
The following year witnessed Bagan’s triumph in IFA Shield, but barring that, there wasn’t much success for the Kolkata stalwarts.
However, the notable feat came after that when the team became the first Indian outfit to tour East Africa. They played 19 matches against teams from Uganda, Nairobi, and Zanzibar. Out of those 19 matches, the team managed to win 15 of them, scoring 61 goals. Amiyo Chatterjee and Dipu Das were two important players for Bagan.
In 1962, they also became the first club to win the Calcutta League 10 times, and also managed to win the IFA Shield in that year. Mohun Bagan stalwart Gostha Pal became the first Indian footballer to be awarded the Padma Shri on 27th April 1962.
The year 1963 saw a triumph in Calcutta Football League and also in the Durand Cup. It was followed by the inauguration of a new club tent. The next year was marked by the flamboyant and a year-long celebration of the club’s platinum jubilee. The jubilee celebration events spanned from cricket to football.
In football, Hungarian team, FC Tatabanya, played a few friendly matches in India. In cricket, players like Sir Garfield Sobers, Farokh Engineer, Mushtaq Mohammad and Lance Gibbs graced the city with their presence.
1965 again witnessed the triumph in Durand and Calcutta Football League. Mohun Bagan became the first team to win the Durand and Calcutta Football League for three times and four times, respectively, on the bounce.
The only silverware that eluded Bagan till then was the Rover’s Cup, but they changed that dubious record in 1966 as Bagan romped over Vasco SC to notch up the Rover’s Cup as well.
Bagan ended the decade on a promising note, notching up the Calcutta League and the IFA Shield, and made a number of appearances in the Durand and Shield finals.
#3 Resurgence in 1976 and treble followed by a match with Cosmos
Mohun Bagan was at their lowest in the years between 1970 and 1975. After failing to rope in any good players, the team’s performances dipped drastically, while arch-rivals East Bengal, on the contrary, was in the pink of form and kept on ravaging one club after another.
After a crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals, East Bengal in the 1975 Shield final, Bagan vowed to bounce back. Prasun Banerjee, along with Subrata Bhattacharya, was signed by the club to bolster their squad. Compton Dutta, who was one of the most robust defenders of India at that point of time, was also brought in by Bagan.
Despite having a star-studded side, Bagan failed to make an impressive start to their season. They were sent home with a defeat to ITI in the inaugural Federation Cup final, but they were finally able to quell their trophy drought as they went on to thrash Mohammedan in the finals of the Borodoloi trophy.
Mohun Bagan then, for the first time, notched up the first ever treble in the history of Indian football in 1977. They went on to win the IFA Shield with a victory over their arch-rivals East Bengal, won the Rovers Cup by trouncing Tata Sports Club, and they walked over JCT Mills to polish off their ‘triple crown’ by notching up the Durand.
After such an exultant feat achieved by the club followed another historical match in the archives of Mohun Bagan. New York Cosmos, that sported the likes of Pele, Carlos Alberto, and Georgio Chinaglia, visited Kolkata to play an exhibition match against Mohun Bagan.
As expected, Cosmos drew first blood through Alberto Carlos but Shyam Thapa soon cancelled out the early goal when he went on to score the equaliser. Mohun Bagan left the onlookers speechless as they went on to take the lead via a Mohammad Habib stunner. However, Georgio Chinaglia scored a late goal to end the game on level terms.
The following year witnessed Mohun Bagan scoring 78 goals in 22 matches to bag the Calcutta Football League. It was also followed by the IFA Shield and the maiden Federation Cup where Bagan was jointly crowned champions with East Bengal.
Another famous match that ensued the Cosmos vie was the game with Ararat Yerevan. Yerevan comprised players like Arkady Andreasyan and Khoren Oganesian, who were taking Europe by storm at that point in time.
Despite conceding an early goal, Bagan fought back in the game and levelled things and eventually went on to take the lead. A late strike from Oganesian kept things at par.
In 1979, Mohun Bagan stamped their authority as one of the best Indian clubs when they went on to win all four trophies in which they participated. They managed to notch up the Durand, IFA Shield, and Calcutta Football League.
This era of Mohun Bagan was marked as one of the notable eras for the club, who came back from the dead and turned into one of the deadliest forces of the game in Indian football.
#4 First NFL title
Mohun Bagan’s promising run in the year 1997 came to a halt when they were vanquished by their arch-rivals East Bengal in the Federation Cup semi-final. However, they staged a strong reprisal when they went on to drub East Bengal in the ensuing derby by a solitary goal from Dipyendu Biswas.
With their spirits soaring high, they went into the National Football League, which was the second edition of the tournament. Once again, they were handed a defeat at the hands of Air India in the opener.
The team turned the tables from there and remained undefeated for the next ten matches, but their unbeaten run was finally nixed by Salgaocar in February.
That loss to Salgaocar was their final defeat of the season and they went on to notch up the title after they drubbed Mahindra United by 3 goals. Chima Okorie scored 9 goals, which was the highest for Mohun Bagan in the tournament, followed by Dipyendu Biswas’s 4 goals.
Reazul Mustafa led the defence for Bagan in the tournament. Sri Lankan recruit, Roshan Pereira, was also a crucial player as he scared his opponents with dicey runs down the wings and the centre.
Another feather in the crown of Mohun Bagan that year was the addition of the title, “Diadora Team of Asia” for that month’s performance.
The following year witnessed a phenomenal performance from Bagan again. Despite squandering away the NFL title to Salgaocar, they went on to win the IFA Shield. One of their most notable victories in the tournament was their victory against Uzbekistan stalwarts, Pakhtakhor Taskent FK.
#5 Mohun Bagan’s first I-League title and rise to the top
From 2010, Mohun Bagan started to slump downwards. Repeated failures gripped them in back to back seasons and they also failed to sign major players. Jose Ramirez Barreto was in the fag end of his career and the team exhibited a steep descent.
Subash Bhowmick was replaced by Sanjoy Sen in the year 2014 due to a fiasco in CFL and also a shortfall in licensing criterion. This change produced a remarkable watershed moment in the history of Mohun Bagan. Bagan finally turned the tide and went on to win their first ever I-league in 2014.
After ending as runners-up in the CFL and crashing out of the Kings’s Cup to Pune, Bagan drew flak from all corners. To add to their woes, they were ousted of the Federation Cup after a humiliating loss to Salgaocar.
Bagan vowed to prove their mettle and went on to produce a gilt-edged performance in I-League. They went on to thump stalwarts like Bengaluru FC, Dempo and East Bengal, and the league raced down to a nail-biting finish.
The stage was all set for Bagan and Bengaluru to belt out a skull-crushing finale. Bengaluru took an early lead when John Johnson scored the first goal in the dying embers of the first half.
With a draw needed to secure their first I-league, Mohun Bagan went out all guns blazing. The salvo paid off two minutes from regulation time when Bello Rasaq slotted home a powerful header to nullify Johnson’s early strike.
After the referee blew the whistle, the crowd went into a frenzy as the trophy drought for five long years came to an end. The stature of the tournament amplified the success a million times more.