The fans were losing it...so were the players. The setting: East Bengal ground, the event: A crucial Calcutta Football League game between the hosts and giant-killers, Peerless. The visitors were ahead by a goal to nil and the irate players and their vociferous followers were protesting the apparent time-wasting tactics of the Peerless goalie in the hallowed ground bordering the Hooghly river.
The protests boiled over into something unseemly but it did not help East Bengal's cause as the record 39-time champions of the oldest football league in Asia went down to the solitary Ansumana Kromah-penalty that put their league aspirations hanging by a thread. The Kolkata giants saw star players Lalrindika Ralte and Mehtab Singh suspended and more stringent punishment for support staff post the ugly scenes.
Mohun Bagan hit rock-bottom
While the Red-and-Gold brigade recovered to win their next game against Kalighat MS to stay in contention, their eternal rivals and the other pre-league favourite Mohun Bagan went down to Aryan 2-1 in the satellite township Kalyani's verdant stadium, initiating another round of protests from another set of proud fans. The referee was the designated villain No.1. The Mariners seem to be losing the plot in the local league as well after their Durand Cup final loss.
Not since 1958
History is in the making in the historic league. In 1958, an enterprising Eastern Rail, propelled by the brilliance of a certain PK Banerjee and an excellent supporting cast, snatched the league away from the big three. Mohammedan Sporting, 11-time winners of the league, complete the celebrated triumvirate which has dominated the Maidan football scene post-independence. Eastern Rail remain the only 'other' team to win the league.
Peerless, lead by Kromah's goal-scoring prowess and coach Jahar Das' canny approach, are on top of the league with 13 points from six games. They are followed by Bhawanipore Club. East Bengal are third on 13, same as the two ahead of them, but have played seven like Bhawanipore.
George Telegraph have had a great run too with four wins and two losses from their six and are also in contention on 12 points. Mohun Bagan, the 30-time winners and defending champions are on 11 from seven, Mohammedan follow them.
The new Mariners coach Kibu Vicuna and his array of Spanish stars, led by playmaker Joseba Beitia and striker Salva Chamorro, have found it tough to perform on a consistent basis in tricky ground conditions and extreme heat that are synonymous with the League. Bagan went down 3-0 to Peerless early in the league in a defeat that begun their downward spiral.
East Bengal have a Spanish presence as well and Jaime Colado, their goal-scoring midfielder, has also shown glimpses of his talent, but not on a day-in, day-out basis.
It is now time to see whether Peerless can hold their nerves in the final phase of the fabled CFL and become only the second non-big three champion and the first in sixty-one years. They came second last year. With George and Bhawanipore also in the running, the pitch has been really queered for the Kolkata giants, can they engender a resurgence?