Football derbies are often a passionate affair, as two clubs from the same city battle it out to establish their supremacy on the field to the delight of their fans. With the Kolkata Derby, the story is different though. The ripple effect causes a rift not only in the city but divides the whole of Bengal and the emotions invested in the clubs create a perfect pandemonium of chaos, craze and passion- both on the field and in the stands.
Kolkata is famous as the Mecca of football in India. Both the juggernauts hailing from the Kolkata Maidan have their golden presence in the history of India. Since the colonial era, the struggle for independence was intertwined with the essence of football. In the famed IFA Shield Final of 1911, Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment, providing a boost of nationalism to the fans and the common folk. With the inception of East Bengal FC in 1920, a century-old rivalry was born. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, the emotions associated with the erstwhile homeland solidified the passion of East Bengal fans. Various pieces of literature, movies and other pop culture references document the origin story and passion for the Kolkata Derby with vivid detail.
Since the begining, the derby has been one of the most attended sports events in India, even going above and beyond the cricket matches. A 1997 Kolkata Derby at the Federation Cup semi-final was watched by a crowd of 1,31,000 in the stadium, highest in the history of sport in India.
Often catcalls and brawls break out in the stadium between the fans who are high in spirit. With the love-hate relationship of the two clubs, there is assured drama on and off the pitch for every match, and that is why the Kolkata derby is a complete entertainment package for the football connoisseur.
Several goal-scoring records have been set or broken on Kolkata Derby. Both of the teams have scored 5 goals against their opponents on different occasions. Winning the match turn the players into all-time fan-favourites and club legends, while those on the losing side had to face the ire of the fans. Baichung Bhutia has a derby hattrick for East Bengal, while Edeh Chidi has his for Mohun Bagan many years later. It is the ultimate make-or-break match for the footballers in Kolkata.
The emergence of ISL and corporate-backed clubs have highlighted the poor management of the Kolkata clubs. Both of them suffered from sponsor troubles and in the absence of economic strength, the clubs were dependent on the fumes of passion. Still, derby matches, with their high rate of attendance is the perfect cash cow. On the other hand, the ISL clubs were miles behind in terms of followers as they lacked the loyal fanbase of these two giants.
East Bengal stepped in the direction of ISL in 2018, with a rumoured 400 crore sponsorship deal with Quess Corp after selling 70 per cent stake in the joint venture. However, the relationship broke down and they are set to part ways from 2020. Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, is at a better stage as they have completed a historical merger deal with ATK FC and are sheduled to play in the ISL as a joint venture in 2020-2021 season.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal appear in one of the last derby matches of I-league on 19 January 2020, at a situation where the Mariners are considered as the favourite. They are sitting at the top of the table with a 5-match unbeaten streak and a merger deal that heralds a professional era in the club. On the other hand, East Bengal comes into the match after losing 2 of their latest outings. The upcoming break with Quess augurs some negative vibes too. However, there are numerous instances of underdogs bouncing back in derby history. After all, it is a match of uncertainty, and there are no favourites in the derby. Hopefully, this rivalry will be repeated in the next season with the professional approach and marketing package of ISL. After all, it is the passion of the fan brigade and the craze of the derby, that was missing piece of the puzzle ISL neededto find.