The Kolkata Derby: Stats add intrigue to the Bagan-EB rivalry

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.

Mohun Bagan East Bengal

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will face off on Sunday.   -  PTI

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 96 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 lines for their 352nd meeting on February 12 at the Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri, Indian football is surely going to witness another grand duel that has kept alive the interest in sport for around a century.

READ: >The five most notable encounters

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.

The focus now moves to Siliguri's Kanchenjungha Stadium, which will be hosting the big two for the fourth time in the history. The first meeting between the two took place in 1988, which ended in a draw. The second one (an exhibition match) saw Mohun Bagan winning 5-4 in ‘sudden death’ before East Bengal beat Mohun Bagan 2-1 in the first official I-League meeting in April 2016.

East Bengal will go into the fourth duel at Silguri as the current I-League leader, having won the last six matches on the trot. Mohun Bagan is also unbeaten in the season and has 16 points from six outings (five wins and a draw) while East Bengal has played one extra to be on 19 points with six wins and a draw. With the two traditional rivals placed on an equal footing ahead of their classic meeting, the outcome of the 'Derby' is definitely going to play a role in the final standings at the end of the tournament.

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 312 times in the past with East Bengal enjoying a healthy lead with 119 wins and Mohun Bagan trailing at 86 while 107 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 351. "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 358, where East Bengal has won 127, Mohun Bagan 114 and 117 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. And with the centenary celebrations waiting to kick off just a few years from now, the charm of the oldest football rivalry of the continent remains intact.

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