Kolkata Derby: 100 years of passion, perseverance and emotion

In the 100th year since their first-ever meeting in the 1921 Cooch Behar Cup, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have renewed the fabled rivalry in the Indian Super League.

2021 happens to be the 100th year since East Bengal and Mohun Bagan (rebranded in the Indian Super League as SC East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan FC) first locked horns in the Cooch Behar Cup.   -  The Hindu Archives/Sportzpics

This year marks the golden jubilee of legendary singer Manna Dey’s classic, “Shob khelaar shera Bangalir tumi football”. The Bengali number, shot on a local train, means, ‘You, football, are Bengal’s greatest sport ever’.

2021 also happens to be the 100th year since East Bengal and Mohun Bagan (rebranded in the Indian Super League as SC East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan FC) first locked horns in a 'Kolkata Derby' at the Cooch Behar Cup.

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Much has changed in the city since then. Bengal was partitioned during independence. Governments have toppled. Glass-facade skyscrapers have replaced age-old colonial architecture. Yellow ambassadors substituted horse-drawn carriages and tram cars, only to further make way for white, air-conditioned "No Refusal" cabs. Swanky shopping malls having taken over, even the neighbourhood stores are long gone.

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There are, however, some aspects of the laid-back city, which have stood the test of time – the serpentine queues at a rickshaw stand, the distant echo of a harmonium being played in the sombre tunes of a Rabindra sangeet early morning, and the proverbial clamour at the fish market.

There is also the collective love of a dash of extra milk in one’s tea. Throw in some weighty political insights coupled with really colourful opinions on football and you have every Bengali at a roadside stall ever.

Interestingly enough, one would have already sworn his allegiance to a side, even before being born, for what they call the Boro match, or the big game! While the nativists called Ghoti cheer for Mohun Bagan, the Bangal, whose roots belong to the land of the Padma river, join the Red-and-Gold brigade.

No celebration is complete in this part of the world without good food. Thus, they even have different dishes to commemorate a win. While the Mariners (Mohun Bagan) enjoy Chingri (Prawns), an average East Bengal fan relishes the Ilish (Hilsa fish) on matchdays.

The classic Asian footballing rivalry, in any other year, would have been witnessed by a packed Salt Lake Stadium. But on Friday, empty stands at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa will greet the players owing to the health restrictions put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that wouldn't deter two of the biggest fanbases in the country from watching the historic fixture with bated breath from the comfort of their homes.

After the teams' entry into the ISL, a section of fans - especially ATKMBFC's - had expressed their displeasure over the clubs losing their identity.

Protests were also held outside the CESC headquarters in Kolkata after the RPSG group, in January 2020, acquired a majority stake in the erstwhile - Mohun Bagan Athletic Club.

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Even as #RemoveATK raged across social media platforms, voices were raised, accusing the ATK management of tarnishing Mohun Bagan's brand image.

Amid all the noise, “Kolkata Derby, chilaam aachi thaakbo,” says a fan. It roughly translates to: "Dear Kolkata Derby, we were and will always be there for you."

His words remind one of Dey’s song again. “... naam awmor hoyeche Mohun Bagan, East Bengal.” The names of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been immortalised in the annals of Indian football, goes the evergreen chorus.

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