Mohun Bagan: The formative years and the lead up to the IFA Shield triumph in 1911
“Thanks my friends of football renown, for bringing the British teams down, a victory grand to behold, serene and noble-bright and bold - The Mohun Bagans,” read The Bengali on the 30th of July 1911. Like most iconic sports clubs, Mohun Bagan is representative of a culture steeped in popular history.
Founded as the Mohun Bagan Sporting Club on 15th August, 1889 by eminent Calcutta figures which included lawyer Bhupendra Nath Basu (who was to become the President of the Indian National Congress later in 1911) and Jatindra Nath Basu, it was one of the first initiatives in Indian football organization which was to give birth to the now exclusive phenomenon which is characterized by ardent followers and an almost religious devotion to the beautiful game particularly in the region that was collectively Bengal before it was divided.
In a meeting at Basu’s North Calcutta residence at 14, Balaram Ghosh Street, with the earnest endeavours of the Basu, Sen and Mitra families whose members were contemporaries of the ‘Father of Indian Football’- Nagendra Prasad Sarbhadhikary, the Club of the now much beloved Green and Maroon colours was instituted.
From what was once a game that was watched quietly from the outbounds of ongoing matches between English teams, the curiosity and gentle inquiry of the Bengali people gave way to the craze that now surrounds it. Soon after the nationalistic spirit took deep root post the 1854 Sepoy Mutiny, there was the slow yet sure springing up of purely Indian football clubs, led by Sarbadhikary’s famous Sovabazar Club.
The club which was to fire the imagination of generations of Bengalis had its first ground in one of the founding members, Kirti Mitra’s marble palace named the ‘Mohun Bagan Villa’ at Fariapukar Street. It was here that Mohun Bagan is popularly believed to have played its first game against Eden Hindu Hostel’s students. But to suit the need for an adequately large and better football ground, the premises were shifted every few years and it is now housed at the Kolkata Maidan.
An invitee of the young club members who were mostly students, popular Professor F J Rowe of Presidency College, a grammatologist, on the first anniversary celebrations suggested that the club be renamed ‘Mohun Bagan Athletic Club’ as there were some activities more appropriate to ‘Sporting’ like angling and shooting which were not organized by the club.
The Cooch Behar Cup
The members readily agreed. The first tournament played by the Club was the Cooch Behar Cup in 1893 which was started by the Maharaja of the North Bengal princely state of Cooch Behar in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas.
The Cup was organized in response to the primarily racial British segregation of the football teams in Bengal and included participation from such Indian teams as National A.C., Town Club, Aryans, Calcutta Medical College, Shibpur B.E College, St. Joseph’s College, Kumartuli, Ft. William’s Arsenal and Sovabazar Club. Mohun Bagan’s first opponent was the European team, the ‘C’ Company of Sussex Regiment.
Mohun Bagan’s triumph at the Indian Football Association (IFA) Shield which is the fourth oldest club cup competition of the world on 29th July in 1911 was preceded by its victory in the 1904 edition of the Cooch Behar Cup which was followed by winning both the Cooch Behar Cup and the Gladstone Cup in 1905, 1907 and 1908. The Club defeated that year’s IFA Shield winners, the European club, Dalhousie by 6 goals to 1 in the finals of the Gladstone Cup.
This winning streak now continued, brighter and stronger, as Mohun Bagan set a new record by winning the reputed Trades Cup for three consecutive years from 1906 to 1908. In 1906, it also triumphed over Calcutta F.C., another majorly European club, in the Minto-Fete Tournament. Unfortunately in the same year the club was disqualified from participating in the IFA Shield because P K Biswas played for both National A.C. and Mohun Bagan that year, not in accordance with the IFA rules.
It won the Laxmibilash Cup for the first time in 1909. Clearly, the consistent performance of Mohun Bagan earned them a strong following, which was definitely strengthened by the Club’s victories, especially over the European clubs which only served to foster the people’s nationalistic sentiments.
The first tournament in 1909
The IFA Shield was the most prestigious tournament and was always won by British teams based in India. Mohun Bagan’s first chance at participating in this tournament came in 1909 at a time when participation was itself an honour but its advance was cut short early in the second round when it was defeated by the Gordon Highlanders 3-0. The other teams which participated were the Shovabazar Club, Townclub, Heir Sporting and Chinsurah Sporting.
1911 saw the Club winning the Laxmibilash Cup and the Asanulla Cup, but hopes for a breakthrough in the IFA Shield seemed dim as they went down to the Rifle Brigade in the second round. From 1910 to 1912, Mohun Bagan reigned supreme at the Bengal Gymkhana Shield. All these victories earned the Club the highest position among all the Indian teams.
The year 1911 not only caused a stir in the football scene in India but also gave rise, immediately, to the feverish and fanatic football following one witnesses in Bengal today. Mohun Bagan’s participation in the IFA Shield 1911 saw it reach the final after defeating St. Xavier’s in the first round 3-0.
Rangers succumbed in the second round by the same score, Rifle Brigade in the third round by 1 goal to nil and Middlesex Regiment in the semi-final. The first day of the semifinal was a draw but in the following match, the Club advanced to the final for the first time by defeating Middlesex Regiment 3-0.
About eighty thousand people thronged from faraway places to watch the match. The "Calcutta Football Club" also brought about 10 thousand people to the venue. So intense was the atmosphere that the "Bangiya Sahitya Parsad" had to postpone their scheduled condolence meeting of Indranath Bandopadhyay. Such was the hype that the East Indian Railway had arranged for special trains from Burdwan to Ranaghat.
Special Steamers were also arranged to bring people from Raiganj and Baranagar. Even the tram routes were brimming with people that day. In the match, Mohun Bagan lost the toss and was placed towards Eden Garden, and East York towards Fort William. Both teams started off aggressively creating several chances, but the first half did not see any goals.
In the second half, the home team were pushed to the edge. After 15 minutes, Sergeant Jackson drew first blood for East York Regiment. Under tremendous pressure, Shibdas Bhaduri, the Mohun Bagan Captain equalised just 5 minutes after the opener and with just two minutes left in the game Abhilash Ghosh scored to ensure that for the first time in the history of IFA Shield, an Indian club had triumphed.
It was a moment of ecstacy- a moment that every Indian football lover still cherishes!