The 126-year old Durand Cup

The 126-year old Durand Cup

The Durand Cup is one of the most celebrated tournaments in Indian football. Initiated by foreign secretary Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1988, Durand Cup was the first football tournament to be played in the country. Over its 126-year old history, this event has encountered many highs and lows. From the tournament almost being shifted to Pakistan following partition, to the Kolkata clubs lighting it up with some classic encounters in the following years, this cup event has seen it all. In recent decades, however, the Durand Cup has somewhat lost its importance with the advent of the Federation Cup and the Indian top flight. Despite this, the Indian Army, with the assistance of a few Indian clubs, have helped keep alive this tournament over the years. This year’s edition featured eight clubs from the top two divisions of the Indian league structure. With I-League clubs Pune FC and Mohammedan Sporting sending their teams to the tournament, the 126th Durand Cup didn’t go unnoticed by the Indian football fraternity, while the final game between ONGC and Mohammedan was witnessed by thousands.

The qualifying stages of the tournament were played out in the first week of the month (September 2013), with Assam Regiment and Indian Navy making it to the quarter-final group stages of the competition. The Ambedkar Stadium was graced by legendary forward I M Vijayan during these rounds, as he represented the Kerala Police team. Vijayan, however, had to be content with only a qualifying round appearance, as his team crashed out of the tournament following a 1-0 defeat to Indian Navy. The main stages of the tournament kicked off from 9th Sep, with 12 participating teams in total, and three teams each in four groups. The opening game between Army Red and Pune FC was witnessed by quite a few thousands, as the young Pune FC side was outclassed by the exuberant Army Red side by a scoreline of 2-0. In the following games, however, a huge dip in attendances was seen. The primary reason behind this dip could perhaps be the timings of the games, as apart from the opening game, all the other games were played from 1:30 PM and 3.30 PM. There were a few games here and there, which, however, did attract decent crowds, including those played by United Sikkim and Mohammedan Sporting. As the group stages came to an end, Mohammedan Sporting, ONGC, Mumbai Tigers and Indian Navy progressed into the semis. The surprise package of this round was undoubtedly the Indian Navy side, which progressed from a group consisting of Air India and Bhawanipore. The men from the seas drew against the Kolkata-based side and won against Air India to make the semi-final rounds.

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The Final Clash

In a piece of good news for football fans across the country, national broadcaster Doordarshan agreed to telecast the semis and the final match live throughout the nation, ensuring that interested fans didn’t miss out on live action from the Ambedkar. The semis were played out on the 16th and the 17th, and victories for ONGC and Mohammedan Sporting surprised few. As the two sides faced off for the title on Thursday (19th Sep), a 5.30 PM evening kickoff meant that the game was able to attract a few thousand spectators. During the opening minutes of the game, both the sides started cautiously. However, as the minutes passed, it was the Black Panthers who made their mark in the game. It was an Anthony Soren shot which gave Mohammedan the lead in the 36th minute, albeit after a big deflection off ONGC defender Adeola Hassan. Tolgay Ozbey, who played an instrumental part in the first goal, extended the Kolkata side’s lead a few minutes later with a sweet curling effort from the edge of the box. Mohammedan Sporting went into the break with a comfortable two-goal lead. As the match resumed, a Henry Ezeh inspired ONGC side tried to get back into the game. Ten minutes into the second half, Lavino Fernandes pulled a goal back for ONGC, but the newly promoted Mohammedan Sporting held on to their lead as the Black Panthers, who were the first ever Indian side to win the Durand Cup back in 1940, lifted their second ever title. The win, however, came at a cost to the Panthers: influential defender Luciano Sobrosa, who helped keep ONGC striker Henry Ezeh at bay throughout the game, went off with a dislocated elbow.

Durand Cup Final witnessed by thousands at Ambedkar Stadium

The final game was witnessed by thousands at the Ambedkar Stadium

Big Morale Boost For The Black Panthers

Despite the injury, Mohammedan’s win is a big morale-booster for the club, as it prepares for the new I-League season. The Black Panthers may not be among the favorites for the I-League title, but their Durand Cup triumph will surely go a long way in lifting the spirits of the players a few days before the start of the season. On the other hand, the final game of the tournament proved that the country’s oldest football competition is alive and kicking. The attendances in the opening and final game showed that interest hasn’t faded away from the tournament, and the organizers will hopefully learn from their mistakes and organize more evening kick-offs from the next edition. Moreover, with only two I-League clubs taking part in the tournament, including a young Pune FC side, the tournament brought to the fore many young players. It wouldn’t be surprising if players like Lallidianmawia, Rushabh Dhere and Vikash Zanje (to name only a very few) light up the I-League in a few years’ time.

Experience & Exposure For Others

Among the other clubs in the tournament, ONGC’s performances showed that, despite their removal from the I-League, they are still a force to be reckoned with. Striker Henry Ezeh had a brilliant tournament, while goalkeeper Bilifang Narzary proved to be a tough nut to crack under the bar. The dead ball skills of ONGC’s Parwinder Singh were quite delightful to watch, and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see I-League clubs courting him soon. I-League outfit Pune FC crashed out early, but the young side’s performance against ONGC will give the Reds lots of positives to take home. Mumbai Tigers did well getting the better of United Sikkim in the group stages to move into the semis, while the latter had a rather poor few days in the capital. Air India did no better than the Sikkimese outfit either, while for sides like Bhawanipore and Kalighat, the tournament proved to be a decent experience, despite them failing to progress from their groups. It will allow them to mark out their deficiencies ahead of their second division campaigns.

On the whole, it was a positive tournament for most of the participating sides. The organizers too did a good job throughout the tournament, although there is still scope for improvement (especially in terms of timings of the games). One can only hope that the 126-year old tournament comes back bigger and better next year.