Kolkata, the “mecca” of Indian football, is infamous for its passion and fan following. A player can turn into a villain or a hero in a moment’s notice. If you are a hero, you will be worshipped; if you are a villain, then your team bus can be stoned after a loss. It is this sharply contrasting degree of emotion that makes Kolkata football unique. The crowd can exert pressure on a player as well as inspire him to do wonderful things. Another thing that typifies Kolkata football is the derby, the “Boro match”.
The Kolkata derby is contested between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal – two neighbouring yet viciously rivalled clubs. It doesn’t matter if the derby is a title decider or not. On a derby day, only the derby matters; everything else pales into oblivion. A club might finish 7th in the table, but a derby win will always give its fans bragging rights. The derby will generate a sizable crowd irrespective of its importance. A few months ago, an invitational tournament was held to commemorate Mohammedan Sporting’s first Calcutta Football League win. The final was a derby match. A crowd of above 70,000 gathered for the final, despite it being an unofficial match sans star players.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have contested in hundreds of derby matches. Some matches have been forgettable drab affairs. However, there are some matches which has become part of the folklore of Indian football. Let us take a look at five such memorable derby matches.
Note: The list is in chronological order.
Mohun Bagan 3-1 East Bengal (Final, IFA Shield 1969)
Kolkata derbies are kingmakers. A good performance in a derby can etch a player in fans’ memories for eternity. Pranab Ganguly’s performance in this match is a prime example of that fact.
1960s was the golden age of Mohun Bagan; the team, led by Chuni Goswami and Jarnail Singh Bagan, was unstoppable in that decade, winning numerous titles. When the rivals faced off in East Bengal ground on 16th September, Bagan had already sewn up the league title. Bagan was under the tutelage of a highly educated but eccentric young coach named Amal Dutta. That season, Dutta had caused a revolution in Kolkata football; he started playing with a 4-2-4 system, with overlapping wing-backs. It was a sharp deviation from the commonly used 2-3-5 system. East Bengal were tactically undone in that match. If tactics was one reason, Ganguly’s performance was another.
Ganguly, playing as a left-out, scored the opener on 15th minute. He possessed delicate ball skills and was a brilliant dribbler. He took full advantage of the inexperience of a greenhorn defender named Sudhir Karmakar (Karmakar would eventually become one of Indian football’s all time greats). In the 27th minute, Sukalyan Ghosh Dastidar made it 2-0 with a well placed shot. Ganguly grabbed his second and the team’s third goal five minutes later with a perfectly executed header. Peter Thangaraj, playing in the East Bengal goal, had an off-day and made errors in judgment for two of the Bagan goals.
Ganguly might have been the chief architect of Bagan’s victory, but their defence also played brilliantly. Sayeed Nayimuddin and Bhawani Ray went on regular overlaps to keep the East Bengal full-backs busy, while centre-back Chandreshwar Prasad tightly marked Kannan and Kajal Mukherjee.
Amal Dutta, who would go on to become one of the most successful coaches in Indian football, was revered as a hero when the match ended. He was given a treatment which was usually reserved for superstar footballers. Sadly, Ganguly’s career would be affected by injuries in later years , and he failed to fulfill his full potential as a player.
East Bengal 5-0 Mohun Bagan (Final, IFA Shield, 1975)
If 60s belonged to Bagan, the next decade was unquestionably dominated by East Bengal. In first half of the 70’s, East Bengal won every trophy in India with remarkable ease. Most importantly, they didn’t lose a single derby match between 1969 and 1975 – for a period of 1932 days. The pinnacle of this run came on 1st October 1975 in Shield Final. Coached by P.K Banerjee, East Bengal were on the verge of a unique record of winning Shield for four back to back seasons.
Three of the goals East Bengal scored were due to errors made by rookie ‘keeper Bhaskar Ganguly.
P.K Banerjee (right) with Shyam Thapa after the match
Surajit Sengupta started the rout, waltzing past two Bagan defenders to score the opening goal after five minutes. Six minutes later, East Bengal were awarded a penalty kick when Shyam Thapa was fouled inside the box by Tapan Basu. Thapa hit his penalty wide of the goal, as East Bengal failed to increase the lead. In the 24th minute, Subhas Bhowmik’s cross was spilled by Ganguly, and Shyam Thapa made amends for his previous error to make it 2-0. Ranjit Mukherjee’s goal in the 38th minute was perhaps best of the match. The goal resulted after a swift interchange of passes between Sengupta, Thapa amd Bhowmik. Mukherjee outfoxed Bagan stopper Nimai Goswami and took an unstoppable shot to make it 3-0. Shyam Thapa scored his second goal in the 51st minute. Bhaskar Ganguly again spilled a shot from Surajit Sengupta, and Thapa tapped the ball into an open net. Ganguly was replaced by Prashanta Mitra after the fourth goal, but the latter couldn’t prevent the Red and Golds from scoring their fifth goal of the match. Subhankar Sanyal made it 5-0 in the 84th minute.
East Bengal not only created a record of Shield wins; they also made the record (still unbroken) of the biggest victory margin in a derby match. The aftermath of this result was far-reaching. Bagan fans surrounded the club tent, setting some trees on fire; the players were afraid to go out. Subrata Bhattacharya and Prasun Banerjee somehow escaped and spent the night on a boat on the Ganges, before being rescued by Sailen Manna. For Prasun, this loss was ironic, as it came against a team coached by his elder brother. Mohun Bagan supporter Umakanta Paladhi committed suicide after seeing his beloved team slump to such a loss. In his suicide note, he wrote that in his next birth he wanted to be born as a Mohun Bagan player and exact revenge for this defeat. Curiously, Bhaskar would later become one of the finest goal-keepers in Indian football. Bijoy Dikpati and Nimai Goswami, the two Bagan centre-backs, effectively played their last match in the Green and Maroon jersey.
East Bengal 4-1 Mohun Bagan (Semi-Final, Federation Cup, 1997)
The clash in the Fed Cup semi-final was unarguably the most eagerly anticipated match in the long history of the derby. The battle royale of Indian football was taken to a new level by the most intense coaching rivalry of Indian football – P.K Banerjee vs Amal Dutta. P.K and Amal are two of the most successful coaches in India, and have coached both the big clubs sometime or other. Over the years, they have shared a keen rivalry. The sharp contrast between these two makes this rivalry even more intriguing. P.K is the brilliant man-manager who likes to work with superstars; Dutta on the other hand, is the eccentric tactician who banks on young and unproven players.
Amal Dutta, a pioneer, had introduced the 3 back Diamond System that season. It was an overtly offensive tactic, which relied on 7-8 players moving into opposition half in waves of attacks. Cheema Okorie wreaked havoc, as Bagan vanquished Chuchill Brothers 6-0 in the Fed Cup quarter final. The semi-final was not just a clash of eternal rivals, but also a clash of two tactical minds.
Baichung on his way to a hattrick
The match was eagerly anticipated – a record 131,000 (still an Asian record) thronged to the Salt Lake stadium, while millions watched from home. Dutta, infamous for his colourful pre-match comments, had called Baichung “chung chung” and Samuel Omollo as “omelette”. P.K, the shrewd motivator that he is, used these comments to fire up his players. He also replaced his first choice full-backs to field Dulal Biswas and Amitabha Chanda, thereby out-maneuvering Dutta.
As expected, Bagan went into first gear from the word “go”. In the first 25 minutes, they accumulated 5-6 corners., but nothing came out from those corners. Omolo and Noushad Musah had rendered Abdul Khaleq and Cheema Okorie inactive. East Bengal survived the early pressure and slowly took control of the midfield. Nazimul Haque drew first blood with a wonderful side volley to make it 1-0.
After half-time, the Baichung show began. He leapt brilliantly to connect a corner from Somatai Saiza to make it 2-0. When Cheema made it 2-1, hopes of a Bagan comeback were revived. The Sikkimese sniper ensured Bagan’s defeat with two more goals in the next twenty minutes; both these goals came from through-balls, as the high backline of Mohun Bagan were caught out of position. Amal Dutta’s strategy of going on all-out attack without defending properly brought about his downfall. The Bagan defence huffed and puffed to contain Bhutia’s blistering pace, failing completely in their efforts. Baichung created history by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the Kolkata derby. Astonishingly, East Bengal didn’t win Fed Cup that year, despite this brilliant performance in semi-final. They were undone by a brilliant brace from Bruno Coutinho , as Salgaocar won 2-1.
Mohun Bagan 4-3 East Bengal (Kolkata Football League, 2007)
In the start of 2007 season, Subrata Bhattacharya broke a glass ceiling. During his playing days, Bhattacharya was a Mohun Bagan icon. He was regarded as one of the greatest ever defenders to grace the Green and Maroon jersey, and his loyalty to the club was fierce. He shocked the football fraternity in Kolkata by agreeing to coach arch-rivals East Bengal in 2007. Many Bagan supporters have still not forgiven him for what they deem was a traitorous act. Ten years after that Fed Cup semi-final, this League garnered comparable interest among the general public. Subrata was, of course, the centre of all attraction – the man who had been a part of Mohun Bagan for decades would be sitting in their arch-rival’s dug out for the first time.
East Bengal started the match on a defensive note, committing a flurry of fouls and trying to disrupt the flow of play in Bagan midfield. Madhab Das was assigned the job to mark Jose Ramirez Barreto. This would eventually turn out to be a tactical error from Subrata; Barreto possessed far too much cunning and skill for Das to deal with. Mohun Bagan drew first blood, taking advantage of a mispass from Samad as TFA graduate Lalampuia finished a wonderful solo run to make it 1-0. Barreto, with all his experience, made Madhab Das commit mistake after mistake. He often dropped deep, pulling Das out of his position and leaving a gap in East Bengal’s central defence. Das pulled down Barreto inside the box in the 35th minute, and the Brazilian made no mistake from the spot. Shanmugam Venkatesh, perhaps Bagan’s best player in the first half, released a beautiful angular shot to make it 3-0 before half-time. As the teams headed for lemon break, the Bagan fans were anticipating a revenge of the 1975 match. Ironically, Subrata who played in defence in that match, was facing another five goal humiliation as coach.
Barreto and Venkatesh – two players who performed brilliantly
Things totally changed in the second half. Bhattacharya, renowned for his grit during his playing days, injected a never say die attitude in his players. East Bengal icon Alvito D’Counha showcased one of the all-time best individual performances in derby matches. He made it 3-1 after just one minute in the second half. Bagan restored the 3-goal advantage with Venkatesh’s 2nd goal in the 56th minute. After the fourth goal, Bagan players relaxed somewhat, allowing the Red and Golds to come back into the match. Alvito made it 4-2 with a brilliant drop-shot at the hour mark. Seven minutes later, Edmilson made it 4-3 from the spot; from then on, the match was heading for a wild, wild finish. Both teams came close to scoring, but in the end Mohun Bagan hung on to a memorable win in a memorable encounter.
Mohun Bagan 5-3 East Bengal (I-League, 2009)
For 34 long years, Mohun Bagan fans had carried scar of the 5-0 loss in Shield Final. On 25th October, 2009 they finally had a reason to smile. Bagan, for once, had managed to pump 5 goals into East Bengal’s net. The man who made this possible started his football career in Kolkata; at that time, he didn’t get proper limelight and he left the city. After having successful stints at Sporting Clube De Goa and JCT, Edeh Chidi returned to Kolkata to don the Green and Maroon jersey. In this match, he would walk straight into history books, creating a record that a huge pantheon of superstars never managed to do before.
If the match in 1975 was marked by Bhaskar Ganguly’s errors, the one in 2009 would be remembered for some horrific goal-keeping from both ‘keepers. Shilton Pal and Abhra Mandal failed to deal with the pressure of a packed Salt Lake stadium.
Shilton was the first one to blink in the 9th minute – he missed the flight of a corner letting Nirmal Chhetri to make it 1-0 for East Bengal. The lead lasted till 18th minute, when Chidi brushed aside Govin Singh to make it 1-1. Four minutes later, youngster Manish Mathani’s long ranger from a Chidi assist made it 2-1 to Bagan. Chidi scored his second goal of the day in the 33rd minute from a Barreto cross. The Entire East Bengal defence stood in one line as the Nigerian calmly slotted the ball into the net. Shilton Pal was perhaps feeling sorry for his opposite number at this point, so he joined the party with two errors of his own. Veteran striker Yusif Yakubu made no mistakes, as East Bengal came back to tie the match at 3-3. Never before in a Kolkata derby have the spectators seen a similar scoreline during half time.
Edeh Chidi celebrates his 2nd goal
Mohun Bagan coach Bencharifa correctly replaced Shilton Pal with Sangram Mukherjee in the second half. Sangram, with years of experience, provided the much needed calmness and assurance to Bagan defence. Mohun Bagan were dealt a severe blow when talismanic Jose Barreto had to leave the field due to an injury; Barreto was in tears when he left the field. But that day didn’t belong to the Brazilian; it belonged to his strike partner. Undeterred by Barreto’s exit, Chidi continued his goal scoring spree. In the 46th minute, Snehashis Chakravarty whipped in a cross from left wing, which was headed down by James Singh onto Chidi’s path. The Nigerian blasted home from a close range to complete his hattrick. Chidi became the first foreigner to score three goals in a derby clash. It got even better a few minutes later, when the Nigerian headed in a Marcos Perreira free-kick. Chidi became the first player in the history of the derby to score 4 goals in a single encounter. Records tumbled on that fateful day – the most number of goals scored in a derby match, including most goals in the first half.
The biggest irony of the result was the presence of Subhash Bhowmik in East Bengal bench. It was Bhowmik who played a pivotal role in East Bengal’s triumph 34 years ago. As a coach, he had to bear the ignominy of seeing Bagan overturn that result.
Source: “East Bengal-Mohun Bagan reshareshi” by Manas Chakravarty, old match reports from Ganashakti, Anandabazar Patrika