In a city used to political rallies and processions, a sea of humanity descended on Kumartuli Park in north Kolkata on Sunday to celebrate something it is equally passionate about — football.
It was in this park that East Bengal, the iconic football club, began its journey, playing its first match soon after its formation in 1920. The venue was awash in red and gold as thousands of East Bengal fans (approximately 60,000 according to the club) from across generations united to witness the beginning of the club’s centenary celebrations.
The occasion marked a spectacular prelude to East Bengal’s effort to immortalise its entry to the select club of centurions, which currently includes its celebrated rivals Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting.
East Bengal will officially start the centenary celebrations on its foundation day on Thursday with a glittering ceremony at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.
The club will be awarding India’s first cricket World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev with its highest honour, Bharat Gaurav. Kapil is no stranger to football as he had donned the club’s colours in an exhibition match against Mohun Bagan in 1992.
Stalwarts like Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Bhaskar Ganguly will be honoured with lifetime achievement awards. There will also be special awards for two other iconic names, Bhaichung Bhutia and P.K. Banerjee, who contributed to the club’s fame as a player and coach respectively.
The function will also be felicitating the family members of three founder-members: Suresh Chowdhury, Sailesh Bose and Ramesh Chandra (Nasha) Sen. Three former secretaries, Jyotish Chandra Guha, Nripen Das and Dipak (Paltu) Das, will also be honoured posthumously.
The decision of Quess Corp, the club’s present investor, to delink itself after the current season did cast its shadow over the celebrations as many of its current players and coach, Alejandro Menendez, remained absent.
This, however, did not dampen the atmosphere as legends from the golden years joined the multitude of supporters in a colourful procession that concluded at the club’s present address opposite the Eden Gardens after covering a 6-km distance. The procession presented a carnival-like atmosphere as the supporters waved the club flag alongside the tableaux depicting its history.
“Let us hope that East Bengal wins the I-League this time make the centenary celebrations more memorable,” said Subhash Bhowmick, the man who, as coach, helped the club win the ASEAN Club Championship in 2003.
Bhutia — who has been named the biggest find of the century by the club — and legendary forward Sukumar Samajpati also wished the club a great future. “East Bengal has remained one of the biggest names in Indian football ever since its inception. And now that it is completing a century with the same intensity makes its achievement unique,” Samajpati said.
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