The KFL match between East Bengal and Aryan Club was nearing its end. Both teams were unbeaten in the league but East Bengal had already captured the title. The score was 1-1, till 92nd minute, when Snehashis Dutta, a 20 year old left sided midfielder, unleashed a fearsome shot from 25 yards out. His swerving shot beat East Bengal ‘keeper Abhra Mandal, struck the cross-piece and went in. Although it came against a second string East Bengal line-up, it was a memorable goal to finish a memorable campaign, Aryan had created history.
Origin and Downfall
Aryan Sports Club was founded in 1884. It started playing football some years later, making it one of Asia’s oldest football clubs. Before the advent of East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, it was Aryan and Mohun Bagan who enjoyed an elite status among Indian football clubs. While Aryan didn’t enjoy the same degree of success as Green and Maroons, they did perform well in patches. One of Aryan’s greatest moments came in 1940. That year, they won IFA Shield, one of India’s premier tournaments. They became only the 3rd Indian run club to win the prestigious title. Moreover, they crushed Mohun Bagan 4-1 in the final. Sir Dukhiram Majumdar was father figure of the club during those days. It was he who started Aryan’s famous policy of bringing up unknown yet talented footballers.
Aryan enjoyed another spell of success in mid-1950s, reaching the final of Shield in 1955 and 1956 with an ageing Sahu Mewalal in their ranks. As the years progressed they gradually lost their status as a top club, instead Aryan became the breeding ground of some of the most famous players in Kolkata maidan. Players like PK Banerjee, Prasun Banerjee, Goutam Sarkar and Sudhir Karmakar started out in Aryan, before moving on to the bigger clubs. Other than another IFA Shield win in 1983 (title shared with East Bengal), Aryan didn’t achieve a lot of success in modern era.
When Techno India Group, one of India’s foremost knowledge management groups, took over Aryan Club, the club was down in the dumps. They were languishing in the first division “A” group of Kolkata football hierarchy. They were relegated from Kolkata Super Division League in 2007 and were 2 divisions below top tier football in Kolkata. The 2008 takeover from Techno Group injected much needed cash and enthusiasm for the century old club. Swift promotions followed as Aryan made their way back into KFL in 2010.
Experienced Raghu Nandi was roped in to coach Aryan in the start of KFL 2010 season. Nandi is one of the wiliest coaches in Kolkata football, he is renowned for scouting young promising talents. He joined forces with Sumit Mukherjee. Aryan club (now known as “Techno Aryan”) was in safe hands. Nigerian striker Babtunde and Sourav Chakravarty was brought in from BNR. Subha Kumar came from George Telegraph. The average age of Aryan team was 21 years.
Aryan started their campaign in spectacular fashion defeating Peerless 3-0. Babatunde scored a brace, Stanly scored one goal. This match also started the run of Babatunde-Stanley partnership, together they eventually scored half of the total number of goals scored by Aryan. Despite the good start, it was the 1-0 win over Mohun Bagan that made the football fraternity sit up and take notice. Nandi completely out-thought Stanley Rosario. His team dished out a spirited defensive display, blocking out Chidi, Barreto and Muritala. Erich and Anupam Sarkar led the defence from the front. Star of the match, however, was 18 year old Sourav Chakravarty. He man marked Muritala out of the game, winning Man of the Match award in this process. Stanley scored the winning goal in that match. In Kolkata maidan one would rarely see Mohun Bagan/East Bengal supporters cheering a “small club”, the Bagan fans were so impressed with Aryan, that they cheered the team in the end. Satyam Roychowdhury, chairman of Techno Group announced 100,000 indian rupees as prize for winning the match.
Stanley continued his rich goal scoring form as Aryan blanked Railway FC 5-1. Snehashis Dutta scored 2 goals in a 3-0 win over Tollygunge Agragami. Another big result followed against Subrata Bhattacharya’s Chirag United. Despite conceding an early goal, Aryan came back to tie the match 1-1. By this time no one was considering Aryan to win KFL title but they were gaining respect with every passing game. Southern Samity and Aryan were both promoted this season- SS assembled an ambitious team and had big plans this season. Aryan in contrast flew under the radar. When these two teams faced each other, their conditions were very different from the start of the season. SS was suffering from problems on and off the pitch while Aryan was running like a well oiled machine. Predictably, Aryan won by a Babatunde goal. Their only blemish was a 3-0 loss to ONGC in the quarter-final of Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup.
Raghu Nandi’s men defeated another “Big-3” team when they won 1-0 against Mohammedan, thanks to Babatunde, Stanley and ‘keeper Sibram De. It was clear that Aryan would finish in top-5. At this point the idea, that they can go unbeaten for the whole season was slowly taking shape. A 1-0 win over Eastern Railways ensured 3rd position for the newly promoted club. Ironically, this result meant Eastern Railways would get relegated from KFL top division. The same Railways which was the last non “Big-3” team to win Calcutta Football League.
Aryan faced Trevor Morgan’s East Bengal in their last match. Under ideal conditions this match could have ended Aryan’s run of form. However, Morgan having sewed up the title by this time chose to field a second string squad for this match. This gave an ideal platform for Snehashis Dutta, who scored a brace as Aryan beat East Bengal 2-1.
Aryan’s league statistics read like this – played-16, won-11, drawn-5, lost -0, goals for-25, goals against-5. They had the best defensive record in KFL 2010.
The Path Ahead
No club has managed to defeat Mohun Bagan, East Bengal as well as Mohammedan in a single season of KFL football. By doing so Aryan created history. Also no team (sans the “Big-3”) has managed to finish the season unbeaten in past few decades. Raghu Nandi, the miracle man of Kolkata football has pulled off another coup. With unheralded players like Saurav, Subha Kumar, Snehashis, Raju Kole, Subhankar Nath and Mohan Sarkar, Aryan has outwitted the cream of Kolkata football.
Nandi has been coaching small teams for over a decade now, mostly with success. He turned George Telegraph from a modest club to a club which competed in I-League division two. His first shot of I-League glory didn’t end well. Ugandan footballer Alex Kateete died from a massive heart-attack, after they had played their first qualifier against Lajong FC. The team failed to come out of that shock and managed to win only one match in the campaign. Nandi does have the taste of I-League silverware however, winning U-19 I-League title with Mohun Bagan in 2006. Right now, it’s important that Aryan hold on to their squad. Defender Erich has already joined Air India. Techno Group has promised to do everything to retain the squad. Techno India is supposed to sponsor the club till 2018, so they are financially secure for now. As the match against ONGC showed, Aryan need a few more players to fight in I-League Division-2.
Aryan’s rise can breathe a new lease of life in struggling Kolkata football. Clubs like Rajasthan, Kidderpore or Bhawanipore, have history but lack financial backing. With a corporate backing and a decent coach, such clubs can also achieve what Aryan has done. Chirag United (then Ever-Ready) was in 5th division a decade ago, no one would have thought they would win Durand Cup in ten year’s time. Kolkata football needs smaller clubs to play better and get more competitive. Aryan’s success might kick start that process.