This article was first published in February 2017 and republished now with the statistics updated.
The latent weariness that has come to infect the premier club football tournament of the country — I-League – since the onslaught of the glitzy franchise-based Indian Super League, is largely dispelled when the 'Kolkata Derby' comes calling. There is hardly any other match in Indian football – the ISL included — that can rival the pre-eminence of the Kolkata Derby featuring two of the oldest clubs of the continent – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
The excitement of their traditional rivalry is perpetuated in the way the two teams draw the representative communities splitting the city, specifically the Bengalis, in distinct ends of a sporting standoff. The rivalry is all of 98 years old but the enthusiasm surrounding it continues to draw the millions of fans almost with the same intensity when it all started. When the two opponents redraw the battle on September 1 at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata, Indian football is surely going to witness another grand duel that has kept alive the interest in sport for around a century.
There were a lot of talk about the Kolkata Derby facing an ebbing interest forced by the 'quality' of foreign leagues, which are drawing away the fans and audience. But this has been proved wrong time and again as the excitement touches a fever pitch whenever the Derby is on the horizon. This could be gauged from the unyielding efforts of the new generation of fans who are finding out undiscovered facts about the long-standing rivalry between the two.
The latest in the line has set the clock of the origin of Derby by almost four years. A young researcher last year claimed the date of the first encounter between the two sides was on August 8, 1921. This was almost four years early to the commonly accepted date of May 28, 1925, and has sparked a lively debate among the fans and the record-keepers.
In absence of any established official records , the painstaking private endeavours of the researchers, like the one above (done by Abhik Dutta), are providing impetus and glory to Indian football's iconic rivalry.
East Bengal is currently fourth in group A of the Calcutta Football League, with six points from three games, while Mohun Bagan, with four points from the same number of games, is seventh. Form favours East Bengal, which defeated Mohun Bagan in both the I-League matches last season.
Now comes the interesting part of statistics.
Going by the regular calculations which takes into account the tournaments which are still existing, like the Calcutta Football League and the IFA Shield (both over a century old), East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have met 321 times in the past with East Bengal enjoying a healthy lead with 121 wins and Mohun Bagan trailing at 90 while 110 matches ended in stalemate.
But with the latest research throwing light on the existence of many more encounters between the two, the new count stands at 361. "One cannot deny the researchers who have scanned old newspapers and magazines to find out many tournaments which were important and were widely followed initially but have gone out of vogue now. If those tournaments are counted then the number crosses 350," says Hariprasad Chattopadhyay, a noted football statistician following the sport for around four decades.
"There are also seven 'walk-overs' including the recent one in September last year when Mohun Bagan decided not to field its team in the Calcutta Football League, allowing East Bengal the full quota of points and also the title in the end count. If those matches are counted then final figure comes to 367, where East Bengal has won 129, Mohun Bagan 118 and 120 ended in a draw," says Chattopadhyay.
With findings like these gaining currency, the legion of the Kolkata Derby thus continues to grow with every passing year.
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