Mohun Bagan win brings cheer to Kolkata

updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Football fever ruled Kolkata as virtually the entire city turned out to cheer home team Mohun Bagan, which won the country's premier football league. When the 11 boys from Mohun Bagan drove into the city last week, the adulation they received was something else. "I don't think Sourav (Ganguly) got what I got. So many people didn't turn up for him ever, not even when he made his century at Lord’s or when he became captain," remarked Debjit Ghosh, captain, Mohun Bagan club. Through the week Kolkata didn't stopped celebrating. The festive mood after Mohun Bagan's victory reflecting itself in, well, the price of prawn or chingri as it is known here. Tradition has it that the Kolkatans' twin passions, football and fish, come to the fore with a win like this. So when East Bengal wins, its fans celebrate by buying Hilsa in wholesale quantities and when Mohun Bagan proves a point on the ground, their fans troop into fish markets to scrape the piles of prawn clean. "The sale of prawns goes up. From old men to young people, they all come to buy prawns. Even the women turn up to buy prawns," said Chandu Saha, a fish seller. The Mohun Bagan phenomenon goes back to 1889. Set up by the Sens and Boses of North Calcutta, team members started playing football on the grounds of Mohun Bagan villa, now a residential area called Mohun Bagan lane. Those who live in the meandering bylanes here are still passionate about the club and proud to be associated with a part of history. Football loyalties here are enduring and visible. Some of the houses are even painted in the team colours - green and maroon. An NFL final victory is of course special, but the big event for football fanatics here is and has always been a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal clash. In recent years, the traditional rivals have been meeting more often in the local league games like the IFA Cup or even perhaps a Durand Cup encounter. Whenever that happens, the whole city is divided into two factions of supporters and the pressure on the teams is unimaginable. "That rivalry will always be there. Sometimes there are different supporters within the same family but it will always be there," said PK Bannerjee, a veteran footballer. Undying loyalty for clubs, bitter rivalry between supporters, long queues for tickets before a game and endless discussions about the sport in the evening adda (chat) sessions - football is intrinsically linked to Kolkata. From a bunch of 11 barefooted players who stunned a British team in 1911 to the current lot of Mohun Bagan players who have returned with their third NFL title - it is not surprising that football history has been scripted time and again in a city that has been fed on a diet of the sport for as long as one can remember. Today, Kolkata football may still be only edging towards world standards, but to be fair it has had its moments. The victory in Goa will perhaps go down as one such memorable occasion but in the corridors of the Mohun Bagan clubhouse there are many others like in 1911. That year, in a victory with strong nationalist overtones, the Mohun Bagan team became the first team to lift the IFA shield by beating the East Yorkshire regiment 2-1. But perhaps one of the most memorable days in Kolkata was registered when Pele visited the city as a member of the New York Cosmos to play against Mohun Bagan in 1977. Veteran football players say the city had never seen anything like that before. "It was one day we will never forget. Pele had to be driven away in a car with his face covered, or else he would be mobbed. We all laughed that Pele had to hide his face in Calcutta," said Sailen Manna, a veteran footballer. From the barefoot days of football, it has been a long journey. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya is now sponsoring the two rival clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The game has become professional, glamorous and commercialized. Competition has also become grim and the recent spurt of football in Goa has got a few teams here thinking. The induction of foreign players from African countries has further added colour to the game. The likes of Baretto, Moosa and Yakubi have become legends in Kolkata and some clubs admit that they are dependent on them. "Sometimes I have to depend on Baretto to do well because our boys are not good enough all the time," said Subroto Bhattacharya, Mohun Bagan coach. A city steeped in football tradition, Kolkata never stops to tell people how their lives revolve around the sport. From music to even a film titled Mohun Baganer Meye or to a statue of Goshto Pal, one of the legends of Mohun Bagan club in the maidan, football has always been Kolkata's number one sport.