Started in 1898, the Calcutta Football League is one of the oldest football tournaments in the world. Over the last half century it has been dominated by three teams – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. In the last 3 decades the league title has swung between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal only. There is a severe lack of competition and most of the other teams mainly look to avoid relegation, rather than fight for the crown. Despite all its minuses, the KFL still remains the most important domestic league in India.
Last season’s KFL was a welcome change as Chirag United took the title fight to the last match. They lost out to Bagan on the final day but for once, there was some fresh blood in the league. The last time a non big-3 team won the KFL was way back in 1958. That year, a wonderful Eastern Railway team featuring the likes of Pradyut Burman, Bagha Som, P.K Banerjee and Prashanta Sinha captured the title.
In the current season, newly promoted Southern Samity has made most of the headlines. Most of them are due to off-field issues. Southern won the 2nd division league last season and they announced I.M Vijayan as coach. Vijayan, a legendary player, started off with a 2-1 win over Railway FC. Andaman’s player Francis Javier scored a late goal to salvage a win. Their troubles started from that game, when without informing, I.M former East Bengal gaffer Subhas Bhowmik was almost made Technical Director. Vijayan’s powers were curbed and he was effectively made an assistant to Bhowmik. Vijayan kept his head down but the pressure only piled on him as the team failed to get results.
After a 4-1 loss to Kalighat Milan Sangha he was given an ultimatum. Crowd trouble marred Southern Samity’s match against Port Trust, and the match had to be stopped for 40 minutes. The referee’s report indicted the Samity fans. Vijayan was given a lifeline after a shock 1-0 win over Chirag United, Francis again being the savior. He was given another rude awakening when a group of Samity fans shouted slogans asking for his resignation during a practice session. Vijayan had enough by that time as he wanted to resign. But he was retained by Samity administration, only to be let go a few days later. I.M Vijayan, a darling of the Kolkata crowds during his playing days, would like to forget his coaching stint quickly.
Aryans FC, one of the oldest clubs in India, have been a pleasant surprise till date. Coached by veteran Raghu Nandi, they are yet to lose a match after 8 rounds. With 6 wins and an average of 3 goals per game they lead the table. Nandi, a master tactician pulled off the biggest upset to KFL so far as Aryan defeated Mohun Bagan 1-0. Young defender Sourav Chakravarty performed brilliantly in defence in that game. Striker duo of Stanley and Babtunde leads the scoring charts with 5 goals each.
Mohammedan Sporting’s coaching carousel continued for yet another season. Dronacharya award winner, former Indian NT coach Sayeed Nayeemuddin sacked was sacked after getting knocked out in Federation Cup qualifiers. Nayeem alleged broken promises from Mohammedan officials saying that he didn’t get the players he wanted. One of India’s best supported clubs continues to be in administrative doldrums. He was replaced by Nigerian coach Fuja Tope. Under Tope, Mohammedan has made a U-turn in terms of performance. They have won 3 back to back games. Veteran Dipendu Biswas continues to score important goals while foreign import Musibau has been impressive. Winger Mukhtar Ali has been another standout performer.
The Fed Cup winners have been unstoppable in KFL too. They have won games with ease while scoring goals for fun. They have won 6 out 6 and scored an astounding 21 goals so far. Coach Trevor Morgan seems to have prepared his reserve bench well, as fringe players have performed when given a chance. Their 5-0 thumping of Mohammedan almost ended Nayeem’s tenure. Budiram, a revelation last season continues to shine in 2010. Vikas Narzinary scored a wonderful hattrick in East Bengal’s opening game. Going by their performance so far, the Red and Golds are favourties to win their 32nd KFL title. The only blemish in an otherwise sparkling campaign has been Penn Orji’s red card. Penn manhandled a referee Tusharkanti Guha in the match against Mohammedan.
Mohun Bagan has been off to a very shaky start in KFL. When they have won, they wiped the floor with their opponents, scoring 4 goals against Kalighat MS and Tollygunge Agragami. However, they have also lost to Aryan and drew against Chirag. This inconsistency may hurt them in the future. Barreto has once again been the most important player for Bagan. Youngster Surabuddin has failed to impress but Manish Mathani has been consistent when he got a chance.
Chirag United, in 5th division a few years ago, has emerged as one of the strongest teams from Kolkata in recent seasons. In Subrata Bhattacharya, they have one of the best tacticians in the country. They almost won the title last season and followed it up with a creditable show in i-League. They started strongly with a 2-0 win over Railway FC, foreign recruit Eliza Junior making a remarkable debut. They slumped to a loss against Southern Samity and dropped points against Mohun Bagan. Otherwise, they have won all their games.
Under-19 player Munna Malick has been one of the finds of the season in KFL. Josimer has scored goals frequently. Bengal’s Santosh Trophy hero Denson Devdas has continued his good form with some crucial goals. Chirag’s 5-4 win over West Bengal Police is easily the best match of the season so far. WBP came back despite being 3-0 down after 30 minutes. An ugly scene erupted in Chirag – Port Trust game. Subrata was involved in a war of words with Port coach Sabbir Ali and Port official and former footballer – Shibaji Banerjee.
Former i-League winner, Sabbir Ali hasn’t managed to translate his Santosh Trophy heroics to Port Trust. Port has won just two out of 10 matches. Eastern Railway, a mere shadow of their class of ’58 is rock bottom without a win.
This article contains updates till 7th October, 2010. For a detailed table click here.