Kolkata giant East Bengal celebrated its centenary on Saturday. Sportstar held a webinar on Saturday to discuss the club’s legacy and the current challenges it faces.
In conversation were Bhaichung Bhutia and Renedy Singh, two legendary Red and Gold players, All India Football Federation general secretary Kushal Das and Dr. Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta, a long-standing club official.
Speaking about his earliest memory of the club, Renedy said, “I got to know about East Bengal when I was 11-years-old playing all-India U12 tournament in Kolkata. We saw the players training, and P. K. Banerjee was the coach then. After our match, so many people saw East Bengal training and I got to know how big they were.”
Renedy started his professional career at East Bengal in 1996, playing there for four years before returning for a second stint in 2008.
“The demand while playing in Kolkata is high. Fans are waiting for 3 hours just to abuse you so you don't want to be on the losing side,” he said, recalling what it was to play for the club. “At the same time, if we win the match you feel like the best player in the world. That's what the fans make you feel like. Positive pressure!”
While Bhaichung holds the record for most goals scored in the club’s history, he has also crossed the Kolkata divide twice to play for arch rival Mohun Bagan.
Giving an insight into how both the club's board officials functioned, the former India skipper said, "At Mohun Bagan, the officials were more mature in terms of handling the dressing room and players. The East Bengal officials were as passionate as fans of the club, they tend to become fans.I will give you an example. If we are a goal down (at East Bengal), we will see 10-20 officials shouting in the dressing room. And there will be 50-60 officials who would come in, shout and abuse after a loss,” he said, before adding, “The intentions of the East Bengal officials are not wrong.”
His favourite match in the Red and Gold colours? “It’s an easy question to answer. The 4-1 derby win in front of 1.30 lakh people. It was a historic match and the first hat-trick in a derby!”
Alvito D'Cunha made more than 200 appearances for the club and has seen the several highs there, a lot of which came when Bhaichung was leading the line.
Speaking about the Sikkimese’s impact, he said, “In 2003, we had the icon player (Bhaichung Bhutia) joining us and we were playing our first tournament at ASEAN. It was less pressure than local the Calcutta Football League! We had a good pre-season under [head coach] Subhash Bhowmick and [fitness coach] Kevin Jackson.”
“We lost in the first game to the Philippine Army but after that we were unstoppable. Bhutia was crucial for us and we beat the same team [Philippine Army] convincingly in the final. We proved what India football was capable of.”
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