Kapil Dev and his love affair with East Bengal

On the occasion of East Bengal's 100th anniversary celebrations, cricket legend Kapil Dev talks about his love for the club and his affinity for Kolkata.

Kapil Dev pictured donning the iconic Red and Yellow East Bengal jersey. The Cricket World Cup winning captain had signed a contract with East Bengal to play a few practice matches in 1992.   -  The Hindu Archives

Kapil Dev loves Kolkata. He loves football too. Can anything be better than playing football in Kolkata. And that too for the iconic East Bengal, which triggered of its centenary celebrations on Thursday by honouring the cricket legend along with fellow sporting icons.

For Kapil, it was a platform to revisit that wonderful day in June 1992 when he signed a contract to play some exhibition matches for East Bengal. He had then said that the sole purpose of him playing football was to promote the sport. He was saddened at the fall in the standard of the game. The situation has not changed much in 37 years.

“For me, it was a desire to promote the game. Even now I would love to be involved to promote football. It is such a beautiful game. I have never missed an opportunity to visit Kolkata. It is my favourite,” he tells Sportstar.

What attracted him to Kolkata? “I love Chennai too. You can say I have a soft corner for Chennai, my favourite cricket venue. I have never failed to perform there. I have some great friends and cricket fans in Chennai. But there is something about Kolkata. The fans in Kolkata are passionate about sports, cricket and football the most. They understand the game and come to cheer the players in all conditions. That’s what I like the most. You might think it is raining and people would remain indoor but the stadium would be packed,” Kapil says.

In his maiden appearance for East Bengal, he was stunned to see a crowd of 50,000 turn up to watch him in action at the Salt Lake Stadium. He went in as a substitute for Kuljeet Singh and played 23 minutes. “I loved every minute of it. I had wanted to play so that I could maintain a certain fitness level. Of course, there were concerns from the Board that I may get injured but I must thanks my opponents who made it sure there were no hard tackles and I was kept injury-free,” he says.

Kapil loves the culture that dominate sporting activities in Kolkata. “The fans in Kolkata maintain the traditions. They are emotional people and you have to be emotional to love sports. Chennai is the place for cricket and Kolkata for football and cricket too. I have always cherished visiting Kolkata. It is such a great honour to be associated with East Bengal on such a momentous occasion,” says Kapil.

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