Football is fun. But when it’s a “DERBY” clash it is more than football. In the list of world football’s most important club rivalries, Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal clash is rated amongst the 50 most important matches played annually. A remarkable achievement as this is the only match listed from a country which has always been above 100 in the FIFA rankings. This Kolkata derby known as Boro (means big in Bengali) match is considered not only India’s greatest but also one of Asia’s oldest and most anticipated matches.
The two clubs East Bengal, the “Red & Gold Brigade” and Mohun Bagan, “The Mariners” currently meet at least 4 times in a year, 2 in the Kolkata League and I-League each. Whenever the fixtures are announced, it is habituated for the football crazy people to first search the list for the date of the grand old Kolkata derby. And regardless of how well either team is doing, losing a match against their fierce rivals can make life really uneasy for the staff and players of the team at the wrong end of the scoreline.
Both the Kolkata superpowers have a huge fan base across spreading all over the world. Both the clubs represent a specific class of Bengali people, Mohun Bagan represents people existing in the western part of Bengal while East Bengal is supported by people hailing from the eastern part of Bengal now Bangladesh. This rivalry generates fierce conflicts between supporter groups, huge media coverage and extensive following on television. In some cases, bitter controversy can be both causes and consequences of high-profile rivalries.
This season the Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal clash reaches a historic milestone of 300 derby matches. This intense rivalry first started in the 1925 IFA League match which East Bengal won 1-0. East Bengal fans have got their noses comfortably ahead as they have won more than their city rivals. Till now, the Kolkata rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have played 301 matches against each other. East Bengal has won 112, Mohun Bagan has won 85 and 104 matches have been drawn. East Bengal has scored 273 goals and Bagan 227.
The hatred between rival fans and interest in the match has if anything, increased as time has passed, with a crowd of more than 100,000 not an anomaly for this encounter. From the group of video game playing teenagers at the internet cafe to the middle aged well-to-do ‘men in suits’ to the office-going, bus-dwelling middle class people to the young kids with their fathers draped in East Bengal or Mohun Bagan colours, everyone appeared to be soaked in passion, unalloyed emotion and unbridled enthusiasm.
Every derby match between these two sides has crowds and an atmosphere that would not only rival, but also put to shame most of the derby clashes between more fancied teams in Europe and South America.
Unfortunately blood has also been sometimes spilled in such encounters and the full strength of the Kolkata police is needed to control the crowds.
Even the journalists couldn’t resist the temptation to shed the cloak of neutrality and impartially and strip themselves to their colours. Someone sitting next to you, who had returned to the safety net of the press box midway through the match, simply couldn’t hide his support for East Bengal as he went on praying for his team during the penalty shootouts, murmuring a vague “100% eta miss korbe” (I’m 100% sure he shall miss it) everytime a Mohun Bagan player went to disturb the net during the penalty shootout.
Kolkata football has its own share of problems. Fans are said to be unruly and ferociously violent, throwing bottles and what not at the players, and the stadium lights seem to turn off themselves at the wrong moments. Yet still, football in Kolkata is huge and forms an integral part of the people’s lives and that is what makes it so very different from most other places in India. Atmosphere in other parts of India can often be flat but Kolkata can never be accused of that, specially when it comes to the question of the “BORO MATCH”.