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

New research throws fresh light on the history of the Kolkata derby.

The two captains, Goswami of Mohun Bagan and C. Chanda of East Bengal, hold the IFA Shield after the teams had played a draw in October 1961.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

As East Bengal and Mohun Bagan square up for another clash, a researcher from their home city Kolkata has made some interesting discoveries that set the clock of this iconic footballing rivalry back by four years. Training his endeavour to the search of Asia’s oldest football derby, Abhik Dutta found his research resetting the date of the first encounter between the two sides to August 8, 1921. This was almost four years earlier to the commonly accepted date of May 28, 1925, and has sparked a lively debate among the fans and the record keepers.

The research, which is based on reports culled largely from different newspapers preserved in the National Library in Kolkata, puts a fresh perspective on the iconic clash that has defined the city’s obsession with the sport. “I have spoken to the football statisticians and they have accepted my findings. There cannot be better evidence than the reports published in the newspapers of those times like The Statesman and Amrita Bazar Patrika,” says Dutta, who is a cost accountant by profession. By Dutta’s count the two teams faced each other in a competitive match within a year after East Bengal was founded (in 1920), and that would make the Derby barely five years shy of a century.

“The record so far held that East Bengal won the first meeting in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) on May 28, 1925. But my findings from newspaper reports show that the first meeting was a goalless draw which happened in the Cooch Behar Cup on August 8, 1921,” Dutta says. His research finds that the barren encounter was replayed on August 10, 1921 where Mohun Bagan beat East Bengal 3-0.

Ask a reputed football statistician from the city, Hari Prasad Chattopadhyay, and he says the records cannot be denied, but there actually are around 15 matches where the two teams have faced each other, but are discounted by those following the sport because of their obscure nature. These belonged to tournaments which have ceased to exist long back and hence have no bearing on the overall count. “As most of these tournaments have evaporated from the memories of everyone long before actual process of record keeping was started, we have put a special ‘footnote’ to make these records significant,” says Chattopadhyay. According to him the two teams have faced each other 338 times overall. Dutta’s count adds six more matches, which he says he discovered in February this year, to make the overall count 344. “According to my understanding only CFL and IFA Shield clashes have been considered in the pre-independence period. This is completely wrong. The correct information is that during the pre-independence period the two teams clashed against each other in several other reputed and IFA-affiliated tournaments like Cooch Behar Cup, Lady Hardinge Shield, William Younger Cup and Darbhanga Shield among others, which need to be included,” Dutta says.

In absence of official records with the National or the state federations, such private research will continue to add substance to the growing popularity of Kolkata’s football derby. While this keeps happening, the “Mohun-East Derby” will be regaling its legion of supporters outside the teams’ shared home venue, the Salt Lake Stadium, after many years.

The second leg clash of the I-League will be played at the Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri bringing alive the rivalry for the third time in that venue after 1988 and 1999, the first of which ended in a draw, while the second one (an exhibition match) saw Mohun Bagan winning 5-4 in ‘sudden death’.

Mohun Bagan, as the current league leader, will take inspiration from that record and look for full points having drawn the first leg of the I-league 1-1 with its traditional rival.