The great Kolkata derby

The great Kolkata Derby, the oldest football duel in Asia featuring Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, returns to Salt Lake Stadium, its home for the last three and a half decades after a break of almost two years.

The Kolkata Derby has always transcended this inertia but with the ISL and I-League put on a concurrent calendar by the All India Football Federation, the I-League is apparently getting a secondary treatment.   -  Twitter/ East Bengal FC

The great Kolkata Derby, the oldest football duel in Asia featuring Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, returns to Salt Lake Stadium, its home for the last three and a half decades after a break of almost two years. This is a significant development considering the transformation the giant stadium and the sport as a whole has undergone in the interregnum.

The country witnessed its first football World Cup, in form of the FIFA Under-17 event, with Salt Lake Stadium (officially called Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan) playing host to the final and 10 other matches leading to it.

The president of the world governing body of football, FIFA, Gianni Infantino officially put Salt Lake Stadium in league with the best venues in the world as it hosted near capacity crowds. Based on this enthusiasm the Indian edition of the U-17 World Cup created a viewership record as the football aficionados of the city loved to lap up top quality football. So, when two of the oldest clubs of the continent revive their rivalry on Sunday the expectations will a lot higher about the quality of game they dish out.

The Kolkata Derby: They met as early as in 1921!

This is because of 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. The Kolkata Derby has always transcended this inertia but with the ISL and I-League put on a concurrent calendar by the All India Football Federation, the I-League is apparently getting a secondary treatment. Though there is a huge demand for the tickets and the online sale of it already exhausted, this match will test the popularity of Kolkata Derby, which has continued to remain the most followed football match in the history of Indian football.

That there are efforts to diminish the I-league, of which the Derby is an integral part, could be gauged from the way the I-League CEO, Sunando Dhar, recently lamented  the standard of coverage given to the tournament.

The CEO said that the ISL has 18 cameras while I-League has six apparently making its television a less pleasurable experience.

But that is hopefully not going to dampen the spirits of its followers. 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 96 years old but the enthusiasm surrounding it continues to draw the millions of fans almost with the same intensity when it all started.

There have been a lot of talks 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 is the debate about its origin that apparently sets the clock of the Derby by almost four years. In absence of any established official records, the painstaking private endeavours are providing impetus to Indian football's iconic rivalry.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :